A shorter version of this article was posted by Newsmax.
On the Old Continent, Covid-19 is back with a vengeance. It observes neither the European Union’s Schengen Zone, nor the eastern borders of the post-Soviet world. 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. That yodeling concert one attended in Switzerland in August turns out to have been a super-spreader. Duh. The same goes for that six-hundred people strong fetish party that the police dispersed a month ago in Berlin.
Consequently, the old division into the socially disciplined central and eastern Europe and basket-case Mediterranean south-western part of the EU is no more. The plague has now wreaked similar havoc everywhere, really without exceptions.
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. Most of them suffered from other ailments, and most of the deceased tended to be past 60 years old. Europe’s medical system has been cracking at the seams. Germany has been relatively most efficient; it also offered to take in Dutch patients, who accepted, and the Poles, who declined.
The new wave of infection has been less discriminating than the previous one. It afflicts even children, who were mostly spared in the initial burst of the illness. Perhaps it is because the pandemic already afflicted the low hanging fruit, so to speak, that it now has mutated to target other groups. It is too early to tell. But it appears to spare neither age nor rank.
Britain’s Premier Boris Johnson barely recuperated from his bout with the disease; Poland’s President Andrzej Duda tested positive with Covid. And so did Prince William of Wales, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, and the German Minister of Health Jens Spahn. The European Commission in Brussels is a nest of infection with over 400 employees, including at least two EU commissioners afflicted.
Notoriously eschewing his protective mask, Pope Francis is now reportedly under quarantine after socializing with a bishop who has since been diagnosed with the virus. Yet, that does not prevent the Pontiff from castigating people who complain about the pandemic restrictions.
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. Its medical system has virtually melted down; the medical personnel are told to continue in their posts, even if infected. Spain comes close, with a daily rate of over 55,000 cases reported out of a population of over 46.7 million people. France is next, with 52,000 daily infections, closely shadowed by Italy. Even Switzerland is hurting: The government has imposed a state of emergency, and Geneva has gone into total lockdown.
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. Denmark spiked to over 50,000 infections, but its death rate remains thankfully rather low at 730. However, its prime minister has just announced a discovery of a new strain of the virus, which species jumped from mink to human, thus endangering the development of an anti-Covid vaccine.
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 a general strategy, European leaders are clearly at a loss of what to do. The fight against Covid rests squarely with national regimes. There is either not enough or too much government involvement. Or, frequently, it may be 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 practices, all essential and some non-essential businesses remain operational. For example, restaurants stay open, but only for takeout and delivery. The measures applied tend to be standard throughout the EU, but there are certain national exceptions. 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. Its residents must observe a 9:00 pm-5:00 am curfew and inform the authorities by text message whenever they need to leave their homes and give a valid reason for it. Athens’ pandemic regime is less stringent.
The Irish elected a six-week lockdown. The British imposed a month-long partial social and economic freeze on activities, but furloughed employees 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. Meanwhile, the conservative government has banned any interaction, including sex, between people who do not reside together.
In Italy, one receives a fine for kissing publicly. France keeps her supermarkets open but forbids the sale of non-essential items such as flowers or books in a lame attempt to protect mom-and-pop stores which the government forced to close down. Facing a virulent backlash, the French authorities mull over reversing themselves on the closure of bookstores.
The Greeks closed down their restaurants and museums, the Hungarians further their spas, and the Germans also their gyms. Life has come to an apparent standstill around Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg gate. However, Germany’s 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). The Catholic Church has cooperated with the Polish government, and it has shut down all its places of worship.
Austria has regulated the exact shape of the facemasks one may wear and has asked its citizens to comply with its 8:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew. The government in Vienna imposed a limit of 6 people meeting indoors, and twelve outdoors. An odd man out, Slovakia has eschewed locking the country down. Instead, Bratislava pushed for mandatory testing. After checking over 60% of its population of 5.45 million, the Slovaks announced that there were less than 39,000 infected (1.06%) and suspended the program. 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. 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. Wild conspiracy theories proliferate, straight from the QAnon repertoire, with Bill Gates starring as the chief villain, even in the usually laid back and progressive Netherlands.
The political opposition has perked up. In Great Britain, Labour leads in the polls. Nigel Farage has rehauled his Brexit party into a “Reform U.K.” organization.
In Poland, rule twisting makes the headlines. For instance, a parson in Ksawerów near Pabianice outside of Łódź rebranded the local cemetery as a park, open for anyone to visit. In Częstochowa, the local hierarchs have decided to ignore the ban and keep both churches and cemeteries open. 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. The government has warned that anyone not complying with the new rules, and, in particular, demonstrating in the streets, will be denied taxpayer subsidies and emergency financial assistance. And next, it instituted an almost total lockdown.
Everywhere the opposition to the government handling of the plague manifests itself in mass demonstrations, some of which turn violent, in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and elsewhere. Madrid, Florence, Rome, Paris, and other cities have witnessed repeated clashes and looting. In Bologna, the demonstrators gave the police the Roman salute. In Amsterdam, clusters of angry citizens harass and assault politicians on their way to work. In the Czech Republic’s capital city of 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. However, those were, first, dispersed by the security forces and, then, they were essentially commandeered by radical feminist and LGBT activists, who unleashed themselves on monuments, churches, and government installations, screaming for abortion on demand. Incongruously, whereas anti-Covid marchers were handled harshly by the Polish police and fined prodigiously for failing to observe anti-pandemic measures (masks, social distancing, and the ban on more than 5 persons permitted to gather in one place), the authorities have treated the pro-abortion activists in kid gloves.
And nowhere the end of history is in sight. Great Britain and the EU have not yet agreed on Brexit, although, one is told, London and Brussels are close to resolving their disagreement over fishing. German taxpayers will have to shell out $111 billion for their leftist fantasy of the Green Grid. The Islamists have attacked in France and Austria, targeting the churches in particular. The illegal migrants keep pouring in unabated; for example, some 600 of them arriving by boat in Italy last week. 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.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, D.C., 5 November 2020