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EU COVID Blues: Between Neglect to Centralization

A shorter version of this article was published by Newsmax.

Europe, including the Intemarium, has been hit hard by the second wave of COVID-19. Or is it a third wave? No one really knows. And no one knows truly how to manage the pandemic which has now claimed over half a million dead Europeans.

So far, Brussels and its underlings have figured out that more freedom translates into economic growth; but more freedom also means more contact between people, which, in turn, exacerbates the pandemic. At the moment, the best that the leading EU elites can come up with is more centralization and less freedom. It seems, however, that the official response is too late and too much. For example, Brussels touts a “COVID passport.” It would divide citizens according to their attitude to inoculation. Some even propose, like former British prime minister Tony Blair, to use the passport, on the one hand, to reward citizens who accept anti-COVID shots, and to punish those who reject them by denying them even the most basic state services. This is envisioned as a centralizing measure.

At least we in the U.S. have federalism. In Europe, federalism is increasingly suspect. The European powers that be have increasingly shifted to central management, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Central management and lockdowns have enveloped the Old Continent with various intensity, depending on the nation-state.

There is not much innovation in public policy. National governments seem to oscillate between tightening and relaxing the COVID regime. During the present cycle, generally, there is a curfew in most EU countries, ranging from the maximum from 6:00pm to 6:00am with some regional variations, both within and without each nation, in Slovakia, Spain, France, Hungary, Portugal, and Italy. The hours are flexible, and governments either shorten or lengthen them as they see fit. There are some legal problems.

In the Netherlands, the curfew is in place for the first time since the Second World War. It is unclear whether that is, in fact, constitutional. In Czechia, it took enacting a new law to impose “a state of emergency” so it would be legal to institute a national curfew. The issue is so contentious that fisticuffs broke out in the parliament in the wake of the vote. In Poland, the government has balked from introducing martial law, without which the curfew that Warsaw proclaimed on December 31 is essentially illegal. In Belgium, the legality of the curfew stands for now, but the official mask mandate has been ruled unconstitutional by a lower court. The parliament has simply failed to enact an appropriate law regarding this particular issue.

All countries have extended their mandatory lockdowns; for example, the Netherlands, which shut down in mid-December, has extended the freeze until February 9. Uniquely, Greece has introduced an indefinite one. In most places, the restaurants remain open for takeout and delivery only. Grocery and drug stores with basic necessities are permitted to do business; everything else is shut down. To encourage anti-COVID vaccination, celebrities and high-profile politicians have themselves inoculated publicly, for instance, Pope Francis, who touted this move as “an ethical choice.” At the same time, reports pour in that hospitals are at capacity in Portugal, Germany, and the UK.

So far, three governments have admitted to having had pursued a wrong policy vis-à-vis the emergency: the British, the Swiss, and the Swedish. A British report has charged that the Boris Johnson administration’s response to the pandemic was “rife with corruption and cronyism.”

The Swiss revealed that their anti-COVID strategy was wrong; perhaps it will result in less lockdown, more liberty. Meanwhile, Sweden’s prime minister apologized specifically for having had neglected the nation’s seniors, who perished disproportionately. The politician uttered not a word about the Social Darwinist and anti-Christian ideological roots of the decision to consign the elderly to an early death. But the Swedish monarch, in a marked departure from near-ceremonial anonymity of the official head of state, criticized harshly the cabinet’s damnable approach towards the old folks.

Taking a cue from Sweden’s failure, Germany announced that it would address the needs of the seniors first as far as vaccination. However, despite a robust propaganda campaign, neither seniors nor anyone else seems to have flocked to government clinics to get a COVID shot. In Berlin, the medical facilities stood virtually empty after two days of tepid interest. The interest positively dwindled after 10 people reportedly died nationwide shortly after inoculation. Doctors reassure the folks that it must have been a coincidence.

Various governments have tacked the vaccination issue differently. And there are also regional differences. In Cyprus, all citizens are under quarantine under house arrest; one is permitted to leave home only twice a day only in an exceptional case after notifying the authorities via text message.

In Slovakia, a southern county has ordered all denizens to stay at home until they produce proof of COVID testing. Until then, folks are under house arrest en bloc. The government plans to impose this solution on the entire nation. Those who refuse to be tested in the age group 15 through 65 will not be allowed even to take a walk outside.

In Poland, post-Communist pathologies surfaced as the well-heeled, including celebrities, received taxpayer-funded shots on the sly. There were citizen protests, for instance in Szczecinek, against differentiating. All Poles are equal, and all should get shots altogether, the argument goes. In France, the government has threatened to ban the unvaccinated from public transportation.

However, some do not want to be inoculated because they do not trust the vaccine. That is the case not only in Germany and Poland, but also throughout Europe. In Bulgaria, 46% of the citizens polled refuse to be inoculated. When an apparently healthy 41-year-old Portuguese mother, four Swedish senior citizens, and at least 29 elderly Norwegians died shortly after subjecting themselves to COVID shots, it made news everywhere. So did the information that over 50 seniors and 15 nursing personnel got infected right after receiving their inoculations at a Spanish retirement home in the region of Calvia on the island of Majorca. The explanation that one needed two rounds of shots sounds spurious to many. And it is none too reassuring that, in the same breath as it announced unexpected deaths of vaccine side effects, Norway callously suggested that frail, elderly citizens should not be given shots. Some perceived it as Social Darwinism. Or perhaps everyone is too jittery, and the Norwegian government has belatedly realized the danger of inoculating seniors with pre-existing health problems and issued a suggestion accordingly.

Further, the people are shocked that an Italian physician had his pay docked because he objected to vaccination and questioned the official line about the pandemic. More seriously, a French pharmacology professor, Jean-Bernard Fourtillan, was arrested and committed to a psychiatric hospital for the same offense.  Rumors spread wide when a Danish study, which claimed to have discovered that masks were ineffective and, thus, superfluous, was suppressed, or, at least, denied wide media circulation. All this tremendously stokes the feeling of uncertainty.

Other ham-fisted moves by the governments in Europe register negatively as well. In Great Britain, a new law has been enacted further limiting the freedom of speech. There is even talk about prioritizing medical help for the afflicted by the pandemic on the basis of their “social utility.” Some have criticized the approach as Malthusian, if not Nazi. Meanwhile, the British police request new powers to be able to enter at will the households suspected of violating the quarantine.

In Portugal, the authorities have introduced regulations that will allow them to expropriate private property “to facilitate economic reconstruction” after COVID.

In Germany, the new COVID regime has limited the number of people that one can meet from outside of one’s household to one (1). A citizen is not allowed to travel further than 10 miles from his home in the most COVID-afflicted areas. One’s dog can get a haircut, but not his owner, at least in Münster. Repeated offenders who break the quarantine will be confined in special camps, which sounds eerily ominous in Germany. And so do other proposed steps. A leftist German politician has even suggested that the same punitive measures against resisting the Coronavirus policies should be applied also to “global warming denial” and other environmental thought crimes. Further, some in the media question the utility of federalism. They allow that, at an early stage of the pandemic, a variegated approach by each of the nation’s regions made sense. But it does not anymore, allegedly. More power to the central government! Thus runs the justification of Germany’s total lockdown, which has just been extended for another month.

The same stringency applies to Great Britain. Scotland is not only in lockdown through January, but it has also banned churchgoing once again. Ireland and Wales are in total lockdown as well, with schools operating only virtually. England differentiates between various counties and cities, depending on the infection levels there. The British border is temporarily closed. The Conservative cabinet has not only threatened to extend the lockdown until Easter, but it seems that it has introduced some of the toughest anti-socializing regulations. One is barred from walking on the beach. No mask on translates into an automatic fine. Soccer players are “forbidden to hug” on the field. The authorities interfered even with Christmas parties, dispersing the participants. And, reportedly, there are plans to keep citizens under virtual house arrest, limiting their movement out to once a week to buy the necessities.

France and Italy have followed suit. Portugal has relocked schools. In Spain, the government has vowed to keep proscription lists of citizens who refuse to be inoculated to be shared with other EU members. In Poland, all schools, museums, and movie theaters are closed as of January 6. The police bust kids skating and tobogganing for violating social distancing laws outdoors. They also raided a hotel in Władysławowo to prevent a junior chess tournament for children ages 9 to 11 from taking place.

Sweden has departed from its lax approach to a voluntary lockdown, evolving toward local quarantines. However, the first-ever reported new strain of COVID imported from Great Britain may expedite the government’s transition to the British and German models. At least in some places, “voluntary” inoculations are reinforced by threats of being fired. Nonetheless, the rate of infection is up and so is the harvest of death. Hospitals are reportedly overwhelmed. Like elsewhere in the EU, the pandemic has impacted the economy. Strömstad, a northern Swedish city, reported skyrocketing unemployment impacting 1,500 denizens, or 20% of the entire local workforce, a whopping increase in joblessness by an astonishing 700%.

In Belgium, where a severe lockdown is in full swing, the police started cracking down on anything perceived as violating quarantine laws. This concerns even gay orgies, including with high-profile EU politicians. In one instance, the cops busted over a score of doped-out revelers, including a Hungarian “conservative” politician, who tried to slide half-naked down the waterspout. For the Belgians, it is not a moral issue but a public health one. Apple has unexpectedly joined in the fray by canceling a gay application that catered to this kind of entertainment.

In Denmark, the lockdown is still on, and the authorities have been rather ham-fisted in its enforcement. They have announced a new law that would require a special vaccination passport for anyone wishing to travel by air. Further, the Copenhagen cabinet is yet to recuperate from a disastrous decision taken last month to exterminate the nation’s entire population of mink, some 15 million animals. The ruling leftist coalition feared that they were infected with a new mutation of COVID. To prevent species-jumping, the prime minister ordered their owners to destroy millions of the animals. That not only totally ruined the pride of Danish commercial animal husbandry, but it also created a serious health hazard: the minks were buried in very shallow pits, which opened up, and the remains must now be exhumed and re-buried properly.

There is some good news. The Holy See has been inoculating Rome’s homeless for free. Hungary has stayed the course in its comprehensive approach to containing the pandemic and now even some leftists in the EU positively acknowledge Budapest’s approach. Spain has slashed rents for hotels and restaurants that see hardly any business. When the Brits clinched Brexit, the French reacted with reinstituting traditional border management measures. A gigantic traffic jam ensued, as truck drivers were stuck right before Christmas on the British side. The French insisted on COVID tests to allow one to drive into France. Polish troops and first responders headed to the UK, helping to process the truckers, who originated from all over the EU.

Meanwhile, demonstrations against COVID restrictions continue throughout the continent. In Vienna, thousands marched last weekend. In Prague, about 3,000 showed up and dispersed rather peacefully; in contrast, protest marches in Copenhagen and Alborg attracted a couple of hundred “Men in Black,” but some violence ensued. The Bulgarians, both in Sofia and London, successfully picketed and demonstrated against their government’s decision to suspend air transportation with Great Britain to prevent the new strain of COVID from spreading. The flights were restored so people could come home for Christmas and then return to work in the isles.

There is also quite a bit of human ingenuity at work to beat the pandemic regime. The Poles, in particular, seem to specialize in overcoming the official COVID restrictions with panache. The government closed down all swimming pools but exempted members of the national swimming team from the ban. The Polish Swimming Union promptly enrolled EVERYONE who wanted in the national team, so that anyone can “compete” in swimming. All pools operate at capacity.

In Zakopane, a hotel owner rented an outdoor parking space and announced that it came with a free hotel room. Thus, technically, he did not violate the law barring him from renting rooms. The price of the parking space, of course, equaled that of the room, pre-pandemic. In another instance, taking advantage of a law that permits schools to operate under certain conditions, a restaurateur announced that his establishment offered a paid lesson in eating with a fork and a knife. Food came for free, thus making a mockery of the no-dining in rule. In Wrocław, organizers of a disco party in a public venue explained to the police that theirs was, in fact, a political party meeting, under the auspices of “The Strike of Entrepreneurs,” which is permitted by law.

However, perhaps more often than not, the lawbreakers face the music. In Gdańsk, a DJ advertised dancing classes, but he got busted when 200 kids showed up for his rave aka “dancing school.” In Cieszyn, thirty cops raided a restaurant immediately after it opened its doors in defiance of the quarantine ban. In Opole, a barber who gave a haircut to his friend and challenged the fine with which he was subsequently slapped was acquitted on a technicality. The court has ruled that there was no national emergency law officially declared in Poland and, thus, the police had no right to apply punitive measures in this case. In another case, an administrative court in Warsaw ruled that fining people for failing to wear masks is unconstitutional and rescinded a fine imposed on the plaintiff. Emboldened, small- and medium-sized businesses vow to open despite government restrictions, or else they will go bankrupt.

In Italy, 50,000 businesses, restaurants in particular, have pledged online to open up without government permission. German entrepreneurs pledged to do likewise on social media platform Telegram: „Wir machen auf – Kein Lockdown mehr” (We are opening up – No more lockdown). Neither Berlin, nor Rome, nor Warsaw are amused. The same goes for Athens: The Orthodox Church in Greece refused the government’s admonishment to refrain from holding Epiphany (Three Kings) services. Masses and festivities went on as scheduled. Because of an unusually warm winter, the Greeks hit the beaches in defiance of lockdown. On the other hand, the Spanish took advantage of a freak snowstorm to flaunt quarantine rules in Madrid. People danced in the streets and threw snowballs.

Levity aside, the outlook is rather bleak. With almost 75,000 deaths so far, Italy has outpaced Great Britain as a leading source of EU fatalities, which stand at about 428,000. In Germany’s heaviest-stricken regions of Saxony and Thuringia, the crematoria reportedly have been working overtime and are about to be overwhelmed. Outside the EU, Russia is the real leader of the death toll; Moscow has recently admitted that over 180,000 of its citizens died, almost three times as many as officially reported hitherto.

Only Belarus refuses to impose a quarantine or any other safety measures. However, its dictator Alexandr Lukashenka no longer jokes too much about the pandemic. Instead, he has promised publicly to reveal a new conspiracy theory: Qui bono? He who benefits from the COVID-19 must have spread it. My bet is that, when the time comes, Lukashenka will blame the United States, of course.

In comparison to Europe, the U.S. looks pretty good. Here’s what a friend of mine from Canada has written to me: “Paradoxically, Donald Trump’s big push for funding vaccine research, which was a major accomplishment, rather than preaching good habits and promoting lockdowns, probably cost him the election. The latter, undertaken in a piecemeal fashion by Western countries, has not worked (UK, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, etc.). No administration could have controlled the virus effectively unless it imposed a complete lockdown and rigorous control measures like in China, South Korea, and Japan. With an unruly and individualistic population like Americans, that would’ve been impossible to undertake.”

Amen to that. Under the circumstances, America has not been doing so badly. Let’s see what happens after the regime change in D.C.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, D.C., 22 January 2021