It's better to be in Europe to battle the pandemic

It is a vastly different story across the Atlantic. Under the chaotic and severely compromised administration of Donald Trump, the US is struggling to simply get the first triage measures of testing and basic care in place.

By Jon Van Housen & Mariella Radaelli (Euroscope)

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Published: Sun 15 Mar 2020, 8:44 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Mar 2020, 10:47 PM

Some in Italy say it's the biggest challenge since WWII. The unseen, mysterious novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has created a pallor of foreboding and fear as it continues its deadly march across the country. Its impact is nowhere near as great as the war, of course - the Covid-19 toll of 1,441 fatalities by Sunday is about half the monthly average for civilians in Italy during WWII - but it has without question put the nation under siege.
Yet after housebound residents under lockdown in Naples spontaneously broke into song from their balconies on Friday, starting a flash mob across the country, singing and playing instruments from home at the same time, it became clear that Italy would endure the virus but not succumb to it.
After some initial mistakes and delays, the government has moved decisively with a lockdown to enforce social distancing measures and quell contagion. Apart from singing from home, colourful, verbose, dramatic Italy will now go quiet until early April.
Also clear is the focus: The wellbeing of people has been placed first and foremost. In addition to the universal healthcare system now severely strained by the number of Covid-19 patients, various levels of government and associations in Italy are preparing what amounts to an economic relief campaign for the people. Different from the talk of bailouts and aid for businesses, corporations and sectors often heard during crises, this is about the daily needs of average people.
Yes, Italy is evaluating economic and business stimulus measures, but it is also formulating relief for households. Among the measures already adopted or under consideration are a moratorium on taxes, mortgage payments and utility bills, and possible one-time payments by various levels of government or professional associations to help tide people over until summer.
Italy is an example of what sets Europe apart. The folly and tragedy of WWII truly changed the continent. Its countries now seem to have a contract with their peoples that embraces their humanity - their wide range of humanity, not only members of the elite or the best connected. Critics say the idealistic European Union is a fool's errand, the result of florid passions and goals following WWII. Yet the cacophony of the EU is itself imminently human - flawed, maddening, occasionally brilliant - an argument about the nature of man and the wellbeing of peoples. For all its faults, few doubt the EU is sincere.
It is a vastly different story across the Atlantic. Under the chaotic and severely compromised administration of Donald Trump, the US is struggling to simply get the first triage measures of testing and basic care in place. With little or no public healthcare or even sick leave, many in the US feel themselves entirely exposed to the worst Covid-19 could bring.
Trump's answer? To once again demonise foreigners. As chaos reigned over the Covid-19 response within the US, Trump abruptly banned travel from 26 European nations. Whether that can even be implemented without leaving various people including US citizens stranded all over the place is a huge question. Just minutes after Trump made the announcement aides were already backtracking and issuing 'clarifications'.
European officials reacted with surprise and anger. As they themselves struggle with the impacts of the coronavirus, European nations need cooperation and fact-based initiatives, both with each other and globally.
But used to tweeting his troubles away, or at least trying to, Trump does not have the attention span needed to follow science. Epidemiologists agree that once community spread has begun within a country, foreign travel restrictions are nearly meaningless.
Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said as much in an interview with CNN.
"Instead of blocking flights from China, we should have closed the schools at that time. I don't say that as a political criticism, but so our experience can maybe benefit other countries."
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also noted the reality on the ground.
Covid-19 is already present and spreading within communities "The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," she said. "The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation."
And instead of trying to get to the US, many Europeans already in the country could prefer to return home to face the virus. In an online story, Italian Alice Speri explains, why she'd rather be in Italy for the coronavirus pandemic.
"Even as the death toll back home continues to climb and the lockdown gets stricter by the day, I would much rather weather this pandemic in Italy than here (in the US)," she wrote. "I just can't shake the terror that the United States, my adopted country, is fundamentally unequipped to handle what lies ahead."
With Trump and his strange coterie in charge in the US, those reservations are well founded. Europe might be ineffectual at times, might seemed wrapped in red tape, but it can rise to its best during crises. Until the US gets some real leadership, Europe seems a bastion of sanity in a world gone haywire.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are editors at

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