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Tags: Europe

Euro COVID Roundup: Back With a Vengeance

gloved hand pointed at map of Europe with virus outbreaks indicated

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz By Friday, 06 November 2020 09:35 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

On the Old Continent, COVID-19 is back with a vengeance. As governments crack down, civil liberties go out the window, triggering popular anger.

It seems like everyone took a break from precaution during the summer and after. Consequently, the pandemic has hit hard everywhere. In the last five weeks the number of infections doubled to 10 million people. Almost 280,000 have died so far, but most suffered also of other ailments.

There are naturally regional and national variations in the intensity of the pandemic. Belgium is an absolute champion in this respect: the most COVID-afflicted country in Europe. Spain and France come close after.

Poland clocks over 22,000 cases per day. Hungary stands at 90,988 people infected; 32,743 are under home quarantine; 21,232 recuperated so far, but 2,063 died.

Not long ago Sweden gloated that its libertarian, no-mask required model resulted in herd immunity in some localities and seriously limited infections during the summer, allowing even to ease restrictions on COVID-ravaged retirement communities. No more. Infections are seriously up: 134,532 out of 10 million population. The death index has risen sharply to almost 6,000. Stockholm has begun to impose serious local restrictions on its population.

As far as general strategy, European leaders are clearly at a loss of what to do. Fight against COVID rests squarely with national regimes. There is either not enough or too much government involvement. Or, frequently, it maybe too much but too late. Most have stepped up testing, and increased penalties for violating COVID regulations.

Most governments opted for a partial lockdown. In distinction to the springtime super restrictive practices, all essential and some nonessential businesses remain operational. For example, restaurants stay open but only for take-out and delivery.

Such measures tend to be standard throughout the EU, but there are certain national variations. For example, Denmark has been forced to suspend its work on the Baltic Pipeline, but not Poland. There are targeted regional lockdowns, instead of national ones. Italy has sealed off selectively certain areas, e.g., Milano and Venice are empty of tourists again. And so is Thessaloniki in Greece. But the pandemic regime of Athens and Rome is less stringent.

The Irish elected for a six-week lockdown. The British imposed a monthlong partial social and economic freeze on activities, but furloughed employess can count on a government subsidy to the tune of 80% of their last salaries. That's the carrot. As far as the stick, London has introduced Europe's arguably harshest isolation measures. Among other things, 10 Downing Street has threatened to send the police to enter private residences to break up Christmas gatherings.

The Germans closed their gyms. However, its schools, kindergartens, and barbers will remain open. Meanwhile, the Poles shuttered down their cemeteries, preventing the celebration of the nation's trademark All Saints and All Souls Day holidays (our Halloween, but solemn.) And this week it instituted a nearly total lockdown.

Austria has imposed a curfew and stringent limits on public meetings. An odd man out, Slovakia has eschewed locking the country down and, instead, pushed for mandatory testing.

In the Balkans, Kosovo and Croatia have introduced a limited lockdown. On the fringes of Europe and the Intermarium, clocking over 18,000 infections per day, Russia has mandated masks for the first time along with other onerous rules.

The official responses exacerbate popular anger across the continent. Anguish, frustration, and fear give rise to resistance. Individual citizens refuse to comply with government strictures. Small businesses either cheat slyly, or unite together to oppose the COVID regime.

Wild conspiracy theories proliferate, straight from the QAnon repertoire, with Bill Gates starring as the chief villain, even in the usually laidback and progressive Netherlands.

In Poland, rule twisting makes the headlines. For instance, a parson in Ksawerów near Łódź rebranded the local cemetery as a park, open for anyone to visit. A Warsaw gym proclaimed itself to be a church: "Temple of the Sound Body," and its patrons have continued to exercise, claiming it was religious worship.

Tens of thousands surreptitiously have abandoned Paris to escape restrictions in the countryside. There is also panic buying in places, for instance in Italy, where consumers snap up baby milk.

The political opposition has perked up everywhere, most dramatically in Great Britain after the government imposed a total lockdown. Therefore Labour leads in the polls. To challenge the conservatives from the right, the Brexit party morphed into "Reform U.K." organization to oppose COVID restrictions.

Everywhere the opposition to the government handling of the plague manifests itself in mass demonstrations, some of which turn violent, in Italy, Spain, France, and elsewhere. In the Czech Republic's Prague the anti-COVID streets erupted into regular fighting against the riot police. In Berlin, protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the national disease control center. In Poland, the libertarians and conservatives organized anti-COVID restriction marches, most notably in Warsaw.

And nowhere the end of history is in sight. It's business as usual across the board. On the negative side, the Islamists have attacked in France and Austria, targeting the churches in particular. The illegal migrants keep pouring in unabated. Everywhere the economy, which experienced an uptick during the summer, is slowing down again. It will certainly get worse before it gets better. And that may take until 2022. This is the good news.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.

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As governments crack down, civil liberties go out the window, triggering popular anger.
Friday, 06 November 2020 09:35 AM
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