Coronavirus crisis: is it time to ease the restrictions?
After weeks and in some cases months of far-reaching restrictions on public life in many European countries, calls for the anti-pandemic measures to be eased are growing louder. At the same time, new virus variants are reducing the effectiveness of the measures. Europe's press reflects the dilemma governments across the continent face.
Rutte government swayed by public opinion
Despite rising infection figures, the Netherlands is planning a slight easing of the protective measures, but the shutdown and curfew will remain in place for the time being. De Telegraaf heaves a sigh of relief but is suspicious at the same time:
“The number of infections has risen sharply. A third wave is said to be inevitable. So why are the reins being loosened at all? Rutte is trying a new tack here: he is appealing to people's sense of responsibility. ... If the trust in the citizen is there now, why wasn't it there before? This conveys the impression that the government is being swayed by the general mood, possibly with half an eye on the election. That would be a bad advisor. Any easing is more than welcome. But only on the basis of sound policy, please.”
Clear communication and resolute management needed
In Germany, an easing of the restrictions is still under discussion. The current stability of the infection numbers is deceptive, warns the Süddeutsche Zeitung:
“The prospect of an end to this is far from clear. The vaccines are conjuring up the illusion of a security that does not yet exist. The good weather and general exhaustion are doing the rest. The pressure to open everything up is enormous, expectations are growing with every passing spring day. Even if we can sense that the pandemic is coming to an end, it's this final phase that must now be managed with the utmost resolve, and its dangers must be communicated in all clarity. ... Just as a clear message was needed at the start of the pandemic, it will also be needed for the coming months.”
Italy is maintaining its anti-pandemic restrictions for the time being, but some members of Prime Minister Draghi's new government oppose this and are kicking up a fuss - just eleven days after the government took office, Corriere della Sera fumes:
“Lega, Forza Italia, Italia Viva, and even some representatives of the PD and the Cinque Stelle [are] united in the fight against the strict measures that have worn down the people. ... This is no trivial problem: the fight against the pandemic is the foundation on which the country's relaunch can be built. Undermining this foundation even before it has been consolidated does not seem like the best way to start off. And yet the temptation to shatter the unity that has only just been achieved is already palpable. This should be avoided before it's too late.”
Reopening of schools must be made possible
In Portugal, a group of doctors, scientists, academics and experts have called on the government to reopen schools from the beginning of March in an open letter published in Público:
“We are aware of the need for measures to contain the epidemic and reduce infections. ... But we feel that the choice between the lives of older people and the education of children and young people is a false dilemma, and that it is possible to reconcile the rights to health and education: ... Empirical evidence shows that closing schools is associated with a decrease in the number of cases in the population, but is not indispensable for bringing the epidemic under control. ... This can be done even with schools open, provided the necessary precautions are taken.”
Skiing more important than school lessons?
In Sweden, people can go on skiing holidays without restrictions and the ski resorts in the north of the country are almost fully booked. Now certain regions are considering temporarily closing schools after the holidays due to rising infection rates. Sydsvenskan is not happy:
“One week or so may not seem that important. But the decision to not discourage trips to the mountains at the expense of school lessons sends a strange message: that skiing is more important than school. It also means that teachers, who have already taken so many blows in the pandemic, are once again being forced to change their plans at short notice. And naturally, the ones who suffer the consequences are the pupils.”