Europeans are bracing for even more restrictions amid the rising number of coronavirus fatalities.
Calling the pandemic the country’s gravest post-World War II crisis, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has ordered all nonessential production to shut down. The death toll has surpassed 6,000 out of over 63,000 people infected and all citizens are homebound. An Israeli doctor in Italy told Israeli television that his hospital in Parma has stopped offering ventilators to patients older than 60.
Genoa resident Eyal Lerner is an Israeli who has been living in Italy for the past 25 years. He believes Italy serves as a warning to other countries. Among the dead is his friend’s 78-year-old father, who couldn’t properly say goodbye to his loved ones.
Lerner, a freelance musician and theater director who has postponed or canceled upcoming projects, said, “It’s very similar to people who go to war to another country and they come back in a coffin. The system is collapsing so what happens is that other people who have so-to-speak normal urgent problems like heart attacks … cannot get hold of the emergency line, and they die.”
Lerner lives in isolation in his apartment. Italians must acquire a special permit to justify leaving the house. He blames the Italians’ carefree and cavalier attitude to the rapid spread of the disease. “If you have a Mediterranean atmosphere, people are not disciplined enough to stay at home.”
He also believes the government’s measures are justified, despite the looming economic recession. “I believe it is an occasion for positive changes in our global social, economical and political system,” he said.
Germany has amped up legally enforceable restrictions effective for the next two weeks. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel was placed under quarantine after being treated by an infected physician. She ultimately tested negative for the virus. Public meetings are limited to up to two people while others must maintain a six-foot distance between them. Only core family members are allowed in the same house.
With communal Passover seders canceled, Morasha Germany-Olami, a Jewish educational institute, has altered its operations to hand out (via gloves) Passover essentials like matzo and haggadot to the several thousand students it serves. All Torah-study classes are taking place online. Germany’s Jewish population is estimated to be 200,000.
“Most people will do the seder alone with their really close circle of people, so we’re really trying to help the people,” said Morasha Director Eliezer Noy (an associate of the reporter). He said enough matzo has arrived safely from the United Kingdom but other kosher-for-Passover foods are stuck at the Austrian-Italian border. As a result, his team is providing recipe ideas using locally sourced ingredients.
Even as the holiday of liberation will be spent in a homemade captivity, Noy has faith. “If God decided that we’re living here for this period, then we’re here for thriving and not for surviving.”
Poland and Eastern Europe
Poland was one of the first European countries to close its borders, causing a bottleneck of trucks along the German-Polish border. Other Eastern European countries have followed suit.
In Poland, 774 cases have been reported with nine deaths, but Guy Sadaka, an Israeli tourism operator living in Warsaw for the past 17 years, believes the number is much higher because of the lack of testing. “There is no lockdown like in Israel,” Sadaka said. “People are going to work but less. If they can work from home, they work at home.”
Poland’s lockdown is not as strict as in other countries. No one is required by law to stay at home but only essential shops remain open and eateries offer delivery or takeout.
“There’s movement in the streets,” Sadaka said, “but it’s down by 60-70%.”
Sadaka’s tourism business catering to Israelis and accounting for 65% of his income is on indefinite hold.
“Cancellations already took place in February,” he said. “If it takes two to three months to finish with this coronavirus, I don’t think the tourism industry will see fruitful results, and it will take at least until holidays in Israel for something to flourish again, because only then will they have some kind of income.”
He said the Polish government has offered citizens no relief package for small and medium-sized businesses. “You’re starting generally to burn your savings. Savings can last three to four months,” he said. “After that I don’t know what will be.”
Late in the game to shut down schools and public gatherings, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined other major European countries in enacting severe social distancing measures as the number of cases surged to 6,650. As in France, no one can leave their home beyond a certain distance except for work, limited outdoor exercise and essential shopping.
“There is an overwhelming sense of relief that the prime minister is finally going to enforce a lockdown, as too many people were not keeping to social distancing rules voluntarily, endangering everyone’s lives,” said Miriam Shaviv, a London-based business owner, via Facebook messenger (she is a Facebook friend of the reporter). “It is clear that countries that enforced these rules early have saved lives. I’m willing to stay under lockdown with my family for as long as it takes, in order to save lives.”
Shaviv said she personally knows one person who died from the virus and at least two friends and acquaintances who have been ventilated. She works from home but, with children at home, finds it more difficult. “We have instituted a fairly rigid timetable for them including homework, chores, exercise, TV time and a ‘personal project,’ which seems to keep them occupied,” she said.
Shaviv attributes Johnson’s delay in ordering a lockdown to his reluctance to impose on people’s civil liberties, and she hopes that the health services will be able to handle the surge in cases.
Other European countries
Spain has extended its state of emergency, banning everyone from all but essential movement. In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his recommendation that Spain implement Israel’s strict lockdown rules. As of press time, the number of cases in Austria was around 5,000 with 25 deaths.
The Netherlands has extended its social distancing measures through June 1. In France, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe told citizens to brace for lockdown for weeks to come.
Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Her second novel is titled “Underskin.”