“My readers in Europe, can you shed more light on things?”
The sentiment of the population changed drastically in the last months. While initially there was a lot of fear, concern, seriousness, and responsibility, it got replaced by fatigue, sloppyness, conspiracy theories, and hopeful thinking. Put simply, the “Covid isn’t that bad, just a little worse than the flu maybe. Also masks don’t really work! Muh freedom!”-faction increased in numbers.
The strategic management and policy response from governments changed drastically: While initially it was “better safe than sorry” it became “doing the absolute minimum that is required, and keep the measures as soft as somehow possible”. The numbers in summer sank to an all time low, and policy makers where resting on them, while not taking precaution and prevention measures for autumn. Schools opened (almost) normally in many countries, work continued normally, people started to gather more and the regulation on events and gatherings got loosened up a lot too. There have been no regional quarantines, making covid spread across borders easily too. Even as cases jumped rapidly, measure adjustements were very mild. If you want to check one of these “curious examples” check out Czechia or Austria in particular. In Austria work and school still operates at full level, no teleworking regulation.As an Austrian citizen, I’m absolutely not surprised at current developments and am deeply dissapointed on the horrible progression for both citizens, as well as policy makers.
Also, the graph you posted from twitter is to be taken with a lot of caution:
No relative numbers (cases per X citizens)
No adjustment for amount of tests. To account for that, one could work with “% of tests positive”, but even that metric is tainted as it doesn’t adjust for different “testing strategies”. For example, one country might not even test close-contacts of a positive case, and just put them in quarantine, and the other does. It will result in different “% of test positive” numbers.
Yep, I agree with all of this.
The start of coronavirus caught the conspiracy theorists unprepared. “We are not doomed!” is not a good viral message. But they had enough time to design better messages meanwhile.
(Ironically, handling coronavirus in spring too well backfired. I read on Facebook regularly: “so the goverment is trying to convince us that we are in the middle of a pandemic and millions of people have died, but I personally do not know anyone who died or even got seriously sick, and I bet neither do you; how statistically likely is that?”)
People are tired. For example, in spring, I used to disinfect everything I brought home from the shop. In summer I stopped doing that. Then in autumn I noticed that I am still not doing that, despite the danger being 10× greater than in spring. (After reflection, I renewed the habit. But it took me some time to notice.) Similarly, having kids stay at home seemed like a simple and reasonable thing in spring. But now it is half year without having a quiet morning at home. For people who have kids in elementary-school age it must be even worse—you have to babysit them, and technically handle their online lessons, all while working full-time from home—so I understand the pressure on government to keep the schools open. Essentially, in spring people wanted the government to protect their lives, but in autumn people want a break. It is insane, but it makes sense psychologically.
During summer it seems like things were okay for a while, so people took vacations abroad like crazy. That probably contributed a lot to making things worse.
In Slovakia, in spring there was a popular demand for wearing face masks and lockdowns. People had face masks before it was mandatory, and cities were closing schools before the government required it. Which is how we got the fewest deaths per capita in the entire EU. Now we get each day as many new cases as during the entire April; and more people died in last 7 days than between the start of pandemic and mid-September. Despite knowing more, the current measures simply don’t make sense—it is mandatory to wear face masks outside, but the schools remain open! [EDIT: Most schools will close the next week.] The government latest idea is to provide free testing for the entire population… using some cheap tests that only have a 30% chance of detecting a coronavirus infection. (So the predictable result, if they really manage to deliver the tests to everyone, is to have 10000 sick people stay home in quarantine, and 20000 sick people being certified by government that they are healthy… I wonder how their behavior will change in the following days.)
Using the economist language of “revealed preferences”, people are simply so tired of the coronavirus measures that they choose to die (with certain low probability). Too bad for those who disagree!
EDIT: Ok, we will have a lockdown, starting this weekend. This escalated quickly! First 4 grades of elementary schools still remain open (and the school attendance mandatory), though. Probably this makes sense to someone; definitely not me.
Out of curiosity I had to look at the FT chart with relative numbers (= seven-day rolling average of new cases (per million), by number of days since 0.1 average daily cases (per million) first recorded):
It looks like the next weeks will show where the situation will go. The curve for some countries looks quite bumpy on the log scale.