Covid in Europe: one year on

In mid-March 2020 most of the shops, daycare centres and schools closed in many European countries, and the first states closed their borders. Various restrictions on civil liberties followed, some of which have only been partially lifted to date. A year on, observers draw sobering conclusions and fear that some changes may remain after the pandemic is over.

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Ukrinform (UA) /

A more limited and unjust world

The pandemic has accentuated five trends, explains Ukrinform:

“First, the accelerated transition of humanity into the virtual world. ... Second, the growing global gap between the incomes of the super-rich and the poor. Third, the concentration of the largest revenues in the hands of the digital giants - Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft. ... Then there are new 'stars' like Zoom. ... Fourth, uncertainty about the future: stress, anger, a sharp drop in the incomes of members of entire classes as a result of the total quarantine. This was bound to lead to social unrest. Fifth, the slowing down of globalisation, the reduction of travel and contact between people on a global and local level.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Surveillance state sneaking in via the back door

With all the Covid restrictions the Poles are getting dangerously used to their personal freedoms being curtailed, Rzeczpospolita fears:

“Domestic quarantine is nothing short of a tracking and monitoring system. Certainly, it's still in its first stages, it's easy to avoid, and at times it's even silly. Nevertheless, it's the first universal system in Poland that combines the surveillance of citizens with potential punishment. Its only predecessors were electronic tags for those whose freedom was restricted. A court decides when and where it should be introduced. In the case of quarantine, however, there is no court. It's enough for someone nearby to get sick, and you're caught up in the system. ... Covid is doing the state a favour: it's a handy excuse to develop a surveillance system.”

Der Nordschleswiger (DK) /

An artificially severed functioning ecosystem

The area around the German-Danish border has been particularly hard hit by Covid restrictions, criticises Der Nordschleswiger:

“In the spring of 2020, it took months for politicians in Copenhagen to finally understand that the German-Danish border region is an interconnected ecological and living system criss-crossed by all kinds of connections . ... Imagine if the Copenhageners were suddenly not allowed to move from one suburb to the other (which would actually have been reasonable, given the incidence figures)? We de facto live in a separate borderland where people can't visit their friends or relatives, where commuters are subject to special requirements and where some of us are drifting apart. ... Because the decision-makers simply don't know enough about life in the border region.”

Le Temps (CH) /

The French can also be disciplined

The French are showing a new side of themselves, Le Temps observes:

“The 'resigned acceptance' in this country that is usually so restless and quick to revolt shows that common sense has prevailed. ... As long as the rules are clear and understandable, as long as they are backed by dedicated local officials, and as long as they respect the health peculiarities of the individual regions, the French can behave in a disciplined and united manner. It is these virtues that Emmanuel Macron must now cultivate by doing his best to explain what is at stake to the population and taking a realistic approach to the problems facing the country to prepare it for the end of 'whatever it takes'. ... And by learning the right lessons from this vaccine against French indiscipline called Covid-19.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Inequalities will continue to grow

The economic recovery will not lead to more justice, political scientist Ian Bremmer laments in Corriere della Sera:

“Some countries - and some social groups within these countries - are better equipped for the future than others. And that's precisely the problem. ... Inconsistent economic recovery will lead to even greater inequalities within these countries. For example, the virus has disproportionately affected the incomes of low-wage earners and service sector workers in advanced economies. The worst effects of the economic downturn have mainly been felt by women and the non-white population.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

The new world is here already

Our way of life has already changed irreversibly as a result of the pandemic, columnist Xenia Tourki comments in Phileleftheros:

“One year after the pandemic broke out, it's clear that much has changed. The problem is to determine which of these things will remain once the pandemic is behind us. For example, will we continue to maintain social distancing and limit our social interactions? Will working from home and remote learning gain ground or will adults go back to work and pupils return to their classrooms? It would be naive to think that things will go back to how they were before overnight. And finally, the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already emerging, forcing governments, companies and each of us to act in a different context than we did in the past.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Clipped wings

The Italy-based writer Ilja Leonhard Pfeijffer wistfully recalls the joys of life before Covid in De Standaard:

“Life has been reduced to simply surviving. But life without frills is no life at all. ... Everything that means anything is unhygienic. Singing in a packed theatre, dancing in the oppressive vaults of a sweaty club, kissing strangers, taking a stroll arm in arm with a laughing woman, conspiring with friends in a bar, sobbing surreptitiously in a full cinema, being smitten by a play and not being able to stop enthusing about it in a buzzing foyer - these are the things that make survival meaningful. Our wings had to be clipped for us to discover what it was to fly.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Glaring defeat

The political decision-makers have never moved beyond mere reaction, notes Die Presse:

“Never before have politicians of the postwar generations had to make such far-reaching decisions. With the exception of Sweden, governments worldwide have adopted similar lockdown strategies ... In the end, no one dared to offer real alternatives to this path. ... The apparent lack of alternatives and glaring defeat for the social function of personal responsibility and reason are the painful lessons one year down the line. But there will be a second year, and possibly a third ... . This is perhaps the most important point of criticism: in the process of reactive decision-making based on rising or falling infection figures, the long-term perspective has been lost.”

Jornal de Notícias (PT) /

Zero response to the collapse

Portugal is facing the impact of the last twelve months without a plan, Jornal de Notícias states:

“In the middle of the third wave of the pandemic, the government's healthcare management policy remains unpredictable and there is still no sign of a serious economic plan to respond to the collapse of sectors that are fundamental to our survival - from tourism to exports of textiles, shoes and wine. ... Let's look at tourism, a sector that has boosted our economy in the last five years and continues to be fundamental to our GDP. Its salvation remains completely uncertain. ... In the Algarve, workers are receiving almost no support and some are forced to beg for food to survive.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Still not enough testing sites

Eesti Päevaleht complains that even now there are places in Estonia where test centres are thin on the ground:

“One particularly crass example is the town of Maardu near Tallinn, which has become Estonia's coronavirus capital. The only test centre is 10 kilometres away, which means that many people who don't have a car have to take the bus to get tested. So it's no wonder the virus is spreading. ... One year after the pandemic began, and in the middle of the second wave, it's not too much to ask that in small towns or districts with particularly high infection rates, temporary testing sites be set up where all those who suspect they have coronavirus can be tested without having to travel by public transport. This flexibility should be embedded in coronavirus policy as a matter of course.”

Politiken (DK) /

Close Asia's wild animal markets

Although the WHO investigation has not confirmed the suspicion that the coronavirus originated at a wet market in Wuhan, Politiken calls for this type of market to finally be banned:

“Covid-19 has cost millions of lives and plunged the world into its biggest crisis since World War II. We cannot afford a repeat of this. If there was any doubt before, it is now clear that the wet markets in Asia are a ticking bomb. These open markets where exotic animals are sold and slaughtered may be picturesque, but they are also life-threatening. Animals that have little contact with each other in the wild come together in these confined spaces and provide malignant diseases with the ideal conditions to jump from one species to another.”