Coronavirus: what have we learned so far?

The total number of new coronavirus infections continues to decline in Europe - although easing measures have been reversed in several countries after the key figures once again started to rise. Commentators take stock these weeks: what lessons has the pandemic taught Europe, and what do we still need to learn?

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La Repubblica (IT) /

Risky geopolitical lockdown

Italy's former deputy foreign minister Marta Dassù worries in La Repubblica that foreign policy is being neglected in the pandemic:

“Locking yourself in, either at home or within national borders, is part of the Covid syndrome - even after the end of the lockdown. It's a mindset that psychologists say will last for a long time to come. It has economic and social, but also geopolitical consequences: in the world of Covid, who wants to deal with foreign policy? ... Foreign and defence policy seem to be turning into collateral victims of the virus. But the point is that we can't afford this. Let's take Libya as an example. The temptation to ignore the problem is very great.”

El País (ES) /

Freedom of movement is under pressure

The coronavirus crisis has shown that open borders in Europe can by no means be taken for granted, El País comments:

“The EU Commission's project of making external borders less permeable and speeding up the deportation of foreigners who are not entitled to asylum has been born with little prospect of it being agreed on within a year from now. This leaves plenty of leeway for countries to manage their borders as they see fit in the meantime. Freedom of movement as one of the pillars of the EU has been put to the test several times in recent years. The threat of terrorism and the influx of refugees across EU borders in 2015 already led to the first exceptions. There is now the risk that these blockades will become mere anecdotes in comparison to the restrictions that could be imposed in the future, facilitated by the pandemic.”

Denik (CZ) /

We have the virus under control now

A rise in the number of infections in individual hotspots is no cause for concern, Denik explains:

“The idea that the coronavirus will simply disappear is appealing, but unlikely. Now it's hit the deputy mayor of Prague, Petr Hlubuček. However, his case shows how the quarantine system now in place is allowing healthcare workers to act with precision and stringency. … It can be said with great certainty that the pandemic in our country - and in the surrounding countries - is over. The disease persists, but our healthcare system can handle it.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Lockdown enhanced inequalities

The pandemic has deepened the rifts in society, complains columnist Antonio Polito in Corriere della Sera:

“In the hundred days of lockdown there were those who lived in poverty as before, cooped up with their children in a 40-square-metre flat and looking out for cheap products during their daily shopping. ... Then there was the Italy of the middle: people who were able to stay at home but lost their income. Dwindling savings and great fear of what is yet to come. For them, the worst times are only just beginning. And finally there were the 'white collars' who kept their job and their salary, have WiFi and Netflix, who do home office and bike sharing. ... At home they have rediscovered affection, slowness, gastronomy, children and love in marriage. And they would almost have liked to stay in lockdown a little longer.”

Der Standard (AT) /

This way the applause sounds cynical

Der Standard also fears that Covid-19 and its consequences could deepen social inequalities:

“Going back to the way things were before coronavirus also means: 'those down there' are told from on high that they're doing it all wrong. They're not educating themselves enough, they want cheap meat and they're too fat. They don't move enough and they aren't environmentally conscious, and what's more, they vote for the wrong people. But that's not all that is going wrong. Inequality is worsening. The distribution of opportunities is even more unfair that in the past. Not only, but also for women and their children who aren't in a position to put things right. ... In fact the debate about systemically relevant work has shown more clearly than ever that these people are mostly low-wage earners. That is exactly what needs to be changed now, if the applause from on high was not meant cynically.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Vital occupations are underpaid

Care professions must be valorized, Switzerland's social democratic Minister of the Interior, Alain Berset, demands in the Tages-Anzeiger:

“Especially in so-called 'system-relevant' professions, some of which pay low wages, working conditions are often poor - from nursing care jobs for the elderly to child care and food supply jobs. The typical justification is that the added value of these occupations is simply low. Economically this may be true, but the added value in social terms is all the higher. A fair country actively looks for gaps in fairness rather than just waiting complacently until these gaps become obvious. 'System-relevant professions'? Let us call these activities what they really are in future: 'vital occupations'. . . Anyone who is serious about valuing vital occupations will also express this value in francs.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Charity starts at home

People in Croatia are incensed that Austria wants to prevent its citizens from spending their summer holidays on the Adriatic for economic reasons. But Zagreb is behaving no differently, Večernji list puts in:

“In the process of recovery from the corona crisis it's clear that state interests are taking precedent, and while some states will win, others will lose. Was Croatia's decision to be the first European country to open its borders to those who want to spend their vacation here taken primarily for epidemiological or for economic reasons? ... As much as one hears talk of coordination and solidarity in the EU, in these times of post-corona and economic crisis policies will first and foremost be guided by the interests of each individual member state.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Democracies have proved their mettle

Ultimately it is democracies that have proven most effective in the battle against the virus, confirms the columnist Ferruccio de Bortoli in Corriere del Ticino:

“In places where the rule of law has deep and ancient roots, the measures to restrict the spread of the pandemic have been more effective because the burden has been shared by an active citizenry. Highly responsible and prudent leaders, among them those with the humility to admit their mistakes, came across as anything but weak - in stark contrast to the vulgar clamouring at the start of the year, which insisted that the clenched fist or the whip would be much more effective against the virus. Democratic leaders have proven their political mettle.”

Diena (LV) /

Back to chaos

Many countries in the EU are gradually lifting Covid-19 restrictions. Diena complains about the chaos:

“It was only in March that EU politicians promised that we would never again have to experience the chaos that resulted from the various countries closing their Schengen borders. Other promises to standardise policies in the EU have also turned out to be empty words. Because even now there are major differences as regards the opening of internal EU borders, entry conditions and the situation for travellers, and this is all changing almost hourly. It's like in the 1990s when it was almost impossible to plan travel abroad. The conditions would change unexpectedly and travellers were forced to adapt.”

Avvenire (IT) /

A lesson for the healthcare system

Italy's healthcare sector needs to become more decentralised, Avvenire comments:

“In this coronavirus crisis we have been able to test the capacity limits of large hospitals (and intensive care units) and have seen their fragility and insufficiency. If healthcare is based on the sole pillar of the hospitals, the risk that they will come under pressure from an exceptional influx increases. The hospitals did a heroic job, but unfortunately they were also hubs of infection where the virus spread. Similarly, old people's homes and nursing homes became multipliers of the virus. ... These events strongly suggest to us that the healthcare system and care for the elderly need a second pillar: a decentralised, capillary supply network that prevents the overloading of central structures.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

Openness has paid off

The Swiss system has once again proven its worth, Corriere del Ticino writes with satisfaction:

“Switzerland's economic opening gives us better access to goods that are difficult or impossible to manufacture domestically, while increasing Swiss companies' sales. Even before the crisis the trend toward more protectionism was wrong. And it remains so after the pandemic and the controversy over masks and other things. Thanks to good trade deals and the diversification of foreign suppliers we were able to face the challenges at hand. And the tried and tested budget discipline along with an appropriate debt brake have allowed us to counterbalance the higher spending incurred by the public sector in this phase and thus avoid an even worse crisis.”

Causeur (FR) /

Administration wasted time

The disastrous human and economic losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic in France are due to the sluggishness of the authorities, historian Pierre Vermeren criticises in Causeur:

“France has such a centralised administrative apparatus that it could have mobilised quickly to respond to shortages, in particular of equipment (masks, tests, gowns, thermometers). As it turns out, the state lost precious time from mid-January to mid-March while the Germans and Asian nations were taking action. ... But what happened when the president declared war on the virus on March 16? Clearly the administration was slow to act, the authorities tried to shirk responsibility, and the managers evoked rules that war should in fact sweep aside.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Hopefully never separated again

The reopening of the Czech-Slovak border on Wednesday night was visible proof of the progress in coping with the virus, Lidové noviny notes with relief:

“This is the end of border controls with the state closest to us, and where many of us have relatives and friends. The border should never be closed again. It's difficult to criticise someone for this and other drastic measures. The aim was to prevent the spread of the new disease and unnecessary deaths despite a lack of information and experience. Now everything is different. We know a lot more about the virus. A potential second wave should no longer take anyone by surprise. The threat of the border and the whole country being closed off no longer exists.”