Since March, I’ve been stuck at home in my room in Brussels, only resuming in person contact with the few friends I had left in Belgium in late May. I am not going to lie, it’s been tough spending those uncertain moments alone, second guessing every news that were popping up on Facebook or trying to make sense of the complicated bi-lingual official Belgian websites of the government. I consider that my ESC has unofficially ended in March, with no events, no travels and no meetups with friends what else is there? The only reason that kept me in Brussels was hope. The hope that one day I can see my friends again, the hope that soon I can travel at least locally, hope that maybe my parents are safer if I stayed in Belgium because at that time Western Europe was a hot mess of infections while Romania was relatively safe. Now that hope is gone, today my country registers over 1.300 new cases per day, while Belgium has “only” 465 people per day testing positive for the virus. By no means am I trying to downplay the importance of these numbers, my question is: what changed?
The beginning of March
In order to have a clearer grasp of the situation we must see the state in which both countries were when the global situation started to worsen for the western civilization. Romania was very quick to act and closed the borders at the very first signs that the virus has entered the country. Romanian authorities have passed the law that stated that any conscious behaviour leading to the death of another person as a result of COVID-19, regardless of their diagnosis, is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Now, as the cynic that I am, I couldn’t help but wondered: how else should have they reacted when this was the attitude advised by the EU and when they saw thousands of people coming back from high risk areas in Italy or Spain due to job loses?
Coming back to Belgium, the situation was expected to be worse from the start here, when my country imposed drastic measures at only 100 cases per day, Belgium had at that time, 3 times more. The first case of Corona virus appeared in Belgium on 4 February 2020, when a Belgian national was repatriated from Wuhan to Brussels and reported positive for the coronavirus. Belgium was among the world's worst-affected countries in terms of the number of deaths per population. For example, on 1 June 2020, it was reported that there had been 819 deaths per one million head of population, compared to 442 in France, 580 in Spain, 592 in the United Kingdom, and seven in Japan. However, Belgium may have been over-reporting the actual number of cases. Unlike many other countries, which publish figures based primarily on confirmed hospital deaths, the death figures reported by the Belgian authorities include deaths in the community, especially in day care homes, confirmed to have been caused by the coronavirus. Such differences in methods of counting complicate any attempt to compare death rates in different countries. But one thing is certain, Belgians had more cases than the average eastern reports.
Is this a cultural thing?
For me it was difficult to imagine that such a developed country could have uneducated people that don’t comply to some basic health and hygiene measures while Romania seemed to do a pretty good job at the time. Then, I’ve realised that there are many other factors to be taken into account and one of them is the infrastructure and the density of the population. The Belgian Kingdom is very well connected to its neighbours, it has one of the highest densities in Europe and moreover, it’s the home of so many European institutions where people all over the world are coming and going all the time.
I will not tackle the issue of the covidiots here, because I believe that is a topic for another time and it requires its own article. Personally, I consider them to be a minority of the population in Belgium, when Germany and many other countries including my own had anti-masks protests, Belgians behaved quite exemplary and those who wished to spread misinformation were relatively few and easily debunked as trolls. Why? Because people here trust their government, of course it may not be perfect and it can get very complicated and sometimes downright absurd to keep up with their ever-changing laws, but people nonetheless comply. On the other hand, we have the eastern bloc… How much trust can those people have in their corrupted politicians, it’s almost impossible to ask a Romanian to believe that this isn’t yet another scheme of Russians or the evil EU to drain them from money and destroy the weak economy that Romania has? It’s especially hard to truly put your trust in people with a stained track record and moreover, during an election year!
“It’s clear that the EU lacked a proper reaction at the beginning of the outbreak on the continent. However, after this hiccup at the beginning, the EU has recovered its pace and set in place measures to help alleviate both the medical, as well as the economic problems surfacing as a consequence of the pandemic. We can see these concrete and consistent measures being put into practice right now. To help diminish the harsh impact of the economic crisis that is to follow, the EU has announced assistance packages for both Romania and Poland alongside other EU countries. Moreover, we cannot forget that under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU doesn’t have any competences in the medical domain, which could perhaps serve as food for thought for the future: if we want the EU to be able to react accordingly, perhaps we will need to extend its area of competence to health. I believe the EU finds itself at a crossroad right now, which can either begin to lead to something that resembles its dissolution, or instead, to its robust strengthening. I believe a stronger EU, just as a stronger NATO, are in the best interest of both Romania and Poland.”- George Scutaru, the General Director at the New Strategy Centre.
Even though we find ourselves in a delicate situation where you have to double check each time you buy new tickets to go on a vacation, with the virus still not gone and a vaccine waiting to be created by brilliant minds, we must strive and look forward to the future. Wear your mask and be safe, this situation will eventually pass, and at the end we should look at the things we’ve learned, what went wrong and what can be improved.