What if Europe cannot deal with the coronavirus crisis?

US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — The shots coming to us from Italy seem a little unrealistic. Empty streets, 60 million quarantined people, fierce fighting against an invisible enemy, the constant transportation of sick people from Lombardy to helicopters throughout the country, beds quickly freed from all patients who do not need urgent hospitalization, new places in hospital corridors, long night queues in front of the shops…

It seems that we are seeing unprecedented frames, but only in our part of the world. We saw very similar, almost identical pictures just a few weeks ago in Wuhan, a giant Chinese city, which, becoming the epicenter of a coronavirus, was first quarantined, but certainly not the last.

According to some forecasts, what we see today in Italy will begin in Germany, France, Spain in nine to ten days … In other words, all of Europe will soon be in quarantine, and the continent will recover from these events for many months. Of course, for the restoration to begin at all, such a situation must end, but now no one can say how much it will take.

Someone says that the situation will improve with the advent of the warm season. Even U.S. President Donald Trump said this week that this will stop the further spread of the virus. However, experts note that there is no concrete evidence of this assumption.

Spring has already begun in the northern hemisphere, but the virus is spreading faster. If we talk about ordinary flu, then in the climate that is characteristic of Europe, the USA and most of Asia, the incidence of seasonal flu increases in the winter and decreases with the advent of spring. Previous forms of coronavirus also behaved in the same way.

But this new virus, COVID-19, is still poorly understood, and experts do not know exactly how it will behave in the spring. After all, it will be his first spring, so in the coming days and weeks we will learn about him “something new”. In light of this, it is not surprising that the idea of ​​quarantine has become so widespread. Its purpose is not only to limit the spread of the virus, but also to alleviate the worst case scenario if it is implemented.

But let’s not guess, because we are not virology experts. We can only wait. But what we can now really discuss and analyze is the consequences of the epidemic, which is already evident or is just coming. Authorities throughout Europe have warned their citizens that they need to prepare for “several months of significant disintegration.”

The events of the past few weeks in Italy have shown that the situation from bad to worse can change very quickly – in one or two days. Few expected Italian authorities to decide to introduce restrictive measures throughout the country. Of course, the new situation most shocked the inhabitants of southern Italy, who believed that all their forces would be thrown into isolation of Lombardy and the neighboring northern regions.

At the time of this writing, the death toll in Italy has increased again and faster than before – by 168 people. Perhaps the authorities nevertheless go one step ahead, realizing the complexity of the situation, and at the weekend they realized that they had no other options as soon as isolating the whole country. Not only because of the spread of the virus beyond, but also for the maximum stabilization of the situation inside it.

Nevertheless, certain chaos and disorganization are noticeable. According to some sources, after all of Lombardy has been quarantined, passenger planes continue to fly from Milan. Several went to London, where, according to witnesses, no one checked passengers at airports, although they arrived from the world’s main epicenter of coronavirus today. This tells us a lot about the organization of the fight against the virus in Italy and Britain, and probably throughout Europe.

Why exactly Italy? Perhaps this is an accident. After all, as we know, a person can be a carrier of the coronavirus, without pronounced symptoms. In other words, we can only guess how many coronavirus cases are in other countries. As for Italy, she, as one Italian journalist said, “was the first to succumb under pressure” and began mass-checking people. How would the situation develop if the same mass inspections were introduced by those countries that now claim that they only have “a few” cases? What will happen to Turkey, according to which, now it does not have a single case of infection with coronavirus (!)?

As for Europe and its reaction, even in Italy there is confusion and lack of coordination. For example, several countries in Europe have already closed schools for several weeks (Albania, Romania …), while others, although they have more cases, do not even think about it.

But the moment has come when European coordination is needed to overcome the crisis. But there was a failure, and now everyone is “playing for himself” (and for their own interests; for example, some countries deliberately increase the risk of the spread of coronavirus, more concerned about economic interests than about the health of their own citizens).

In this regard, in the past few days, one of the most important topics, in addition to the number of infected, has been the comparison of measures to combat coronavirus in China and Europe. Many people wonder if European democracy can cope with tasks in a crisis at the same high level as, undoubtedly, a more authoritarian China, where there is no democracy and where the country is run by one party – the Chinese Communist Party.

For some, the current situation is also a serious ideological challenge, which receives a lot of attention. Over the past 24 hours, there have been many publications in the European media that say that now Europe must “prove” that it is ready to deal with this crisis just as well as China. Since if Europe cannot cope, if the situation gets out of control and chaos reigns (the first “bell” is uprisings in Italian prisons that have already begun), it will become clear that European liberal democracy is not able to meet the new difficult challenges of the 21st century.

It is not necessary to say separately what the consequences of such a conclusion would be. Today, while panic and fear reign in Europe, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan (with a mask on his face) to confirm with his presence that China, even though it is the most populous country in the world, can finally cope with such a challenge …

I remind you that the coronavirus in China has been hosted since the end of 2019, and to date, 3,136 people have died. We are talking about China, a country with almost 1.4 billion people. Moreover, in much smaller Italy, where about 60 million people, as of February 20, there were only four infected, and today 631 have died.

I note that in Lombardy, a rich northern Italian region, an exceptionally good healthcare system. Then what does China have that Italy does not have? Someone will say that the Chinese are very disciplined, and perhaps this is the case. However, this is only part of the answer. China has a system in which the state is able to introduce measures quickly, efficiently and firmly.

In China, the “state” is present everywhere, at every step, in front of every door, in every drone that watches people on the street. Of course, we can call this new China the Orwellian nightmare, but now it is precisely this picture of the future that is most likely. And all this will not be imposed on us from above, but we ourselves, society, will demand it.

What a few weeks ago seemed like a topic hyped by the media is now turning into events of historical and transformational significance. The chances that this epidemic will lead to an “apocalypse”, hopefully, are small due to the number of victims of the disease itself. But on the other hand, the likelihood that this epidemic will grow into something that for many years will affect the world around us and its appearance, especially in political, economic and social terms, is sharply increasing. 20 years ago there was one event that changed the world. On September 11, 2011, terrorists attacked the United States, and we are confronted with the consequences of this event today – in the form of wars that do not stop in the Middle East. Then there was 2008, the global financial crisis, from which the world has still not fully recovered. A coronavirus crisis can trigger an even bigger financial crisis.

What Italy is experiencing today, tomorrow, probably, the whole of Europe will face. Now the EU is forced to fear not only the coronavirus, but also what will happen if it turns out that the EU as a project is powerless in the face of such a crisis. The silence of Brussels is frightening and can cost a lot.

The only thing we hear is how the spears break down around the question of whether it is worth following the Chinese example completely or if one needs to come up with “something new”. Nevertheless, Europe should not be afraid for its double standards: the situation is really serious, and there is no time to deal with them. Everyone understands this (an example is Europe in 2015, which massively accepts migrants, and Europe in 2020, which by all means protects its external borders).

The ancient Chinese curse (in a free translation) is: “So that you live in interesting times.” Today, many of these words have become clearer.


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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.