A treasured anti-Trump meme since the pandemic began begins with the notion that European reaction to the coronavirus was far better than America’s. If only we had done it the way they did it in Germany/France/Netherlands we would have saved thousands of lives.
It’s true, Europe’s response was far more draconian than the response in the U.S. Their lockdowns were more severe. Restrictions on movement were enforced. You couldn’t go outside your home in France unless you were going to the grocery store or the pharmacy.
As the lockdowns lifted, Europeans celebrated and pitied us poor Americans for not getting it.
Now, the coronavirus is back with a vengeance and Europe isn’t ready for it.
Epidemiologists and residents alike are pointing the finger at governments for having failed to seize on the summertime lull in cases to prepare adequately for the expected autumn onslaught, with testing and ICU staffing still critically short. In Rome this week, people waited in line for 8-10 hours to get tested, while front-line medics from Kiev to Paris found themselves once again pulling long, short-staffed shifts in overcrowded wards.
“When the state of alarm was abandoned, it was time to invest in prevention, but that hasn’t been done,” lamented Margarita del Val, viral immunology expert with the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, part of Spain’s top research body, CSIC.
“We are in the fall wave without having resolved the summer wave,” she told an online forum this week.
France, Italy, and Spain — three of the hardest-hit countries when the virus first came ashore in Europe — are reimposing lockdowns as the contagion spreads. In Central and Eastern Europe, the ICUs are filling up and they’re getting more infections now than they did at the height of the spread of the virus.
What went wrong:
“We were closed for six months, the restaurants didn’t work and yet the number of cases still rose,” said Moaghin Marius Ciprian, owner of the popular Grivita Pub n Grill who took part in the protest. “I’m not a specialist but I’m not stupid either. But from my point of view it’s not us that have the responsibility for this pandemic.”
As infections rise in many European countries, some — including Belgium, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain and France — are diagnosing more new cases every day per capita than the United States, according to the seven-day rolling averages of data kept by Johns Hopkins University. On Friday, France, with a population of about 70 million, reported a record 20,300 new infections.
While politicians and the media debate the severity and necessity of lockdowns, some nations have avoided all that and are flourishing.
In April, cafes and restaurants opened in Vietnam full of bustle and life. In July, 10,000 baseball fans attended a match in a stadium in Taiwan. In August, thousands packed together for a music concert at the Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park in China. And this month, rugby internationals are going ahead in New Zealand with stadiums at full capacity.
Daily life within these places has largely returned to normal. Compared to other countries, they have faced minimal economic damage. In fact, Taiwan never even had a lockdown, while lockdown measures in Vietnam, New Zealand and China were early, short and sharp. Out of a population of 1.4bn people, China has only suffered 4,634 Covid-19 deaths; Vietnam, Taiwan and New Zealand together have had 67. How are these countries keeping Covid-19 under control, their health services running, and their economies and societies afloat?
An immunologist who co-authored a paper on the lack of effectiveness of lockdowns believes that “testing, tracing and isolating, where test results are returned within 24 hours [and] at least 80% of people’s contacts are reached” along with common sense precautions would have been sufficient. And the WHO has been warning against overreliance on lockdowns exclusively to control outbreaks.
We are going to have to come to a decision as a society and government to live with this coronavirus. Those who need to be protected can get the vaccine, wear a mask, avoid crowds, and other simple measures that fall far short of locking Americans in their homes while the economy goes into freefall.