Europe in lockdown

The collective anguish makes us long for what we had

Protest against restrictions in France / MARTIN BUREAU / AFP
Listen here to Carme Colomina's article

LIMITATIONS. Europe's cafés have closed for fear of contagion. Restrictions have been tightened and generalized. This time the wave is passing over us all equally. United in vulnerability. In Germany the government warns that there will be  five more months of 'severe restrictions '. Curfews and silence in the streets are back. Those who were less badly affected by the first wave -Sweden, Portugal, Hungary- now feel overwhelmed.

It's been already eight months. Announced financial support is yet to materialise. Negotiation of the European Union's post-pandemic fund continues to be held hostage to the political scramble between governments that have failed to protect the people. Public exasperation is taking shape.

There is no longer any new normality and we have almost forgotten all those initial discussions about a world that would emerge changed from this crisis. The collective anguish makes us long for what we had. We desperately need the return of physical contact, family encounters, culture and the possibility of travel. But, above all, we need the certainty of work: of working, making plans and making ends meet.

PROTESTS. In this interregnum, the world returns to convulsion. Even the truces seem to be exhausted. Scepticism and distrust in governments and their limitations are growing. The emotional cost of the pandemic is taking shape. The World Health Organisation admits that they have noted "pandemic fatigue" in Europe and how this affects compliance with protective measures.

A few days ago, a group of demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails at the police in Florence. A malaise that was also reproduced in Naples, in Milan or in Turin against the latest restrictions approved by Giuseppe Conte's government. The same was happening in Barcelona, or in Leipzig, in eastern Germany. In London, protests by anti-vaccine movements ended with clashes with the police in Trafalgar Square.

In France distrust has translated into a long Facebook message that has gone viral in recent weeks with a litany of 36 questions about the covid-19 crisis, loaded with "why" and "by whom" that mix up the death count, media silences in the coverage of the pandemic, Bill Gates' investments, the effect of hydroxychloroquine or the installation of 5G antennas. A series of doubts, misinformation and concerns that, above all, reflect the degree of frustration that the covid inoculates.

INEQUALITIES. The longer the crisis goes on, the wider the social divide. It is not only mental exhaustion. It is the distance between bubbles of different realities. Between those who have used the fear of contagion as a measure of control; those who try to pretend that they govern using rhetoric rather than resources; those who, having the responsibility to protect the citizens, make short-term politics while the virus settles in a very long winter. Europe is becoming more unequal. It is not just the pandemic. It is its management.

The coronavirus was an unexpected, unpredictable blow. But the fact that its effects are being felt by the most vulnerable is not improvised, nor is it harmless. It's been eight months and restrictions on movement can't be the only possible response.

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