Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Letters from Europe – Covid-19 Response

Filed under: Politics — Rick at 12:13 am on Wednesday, August 12, 2020

You may not remember me since I have not posted here since December 2013. My name is Rick Munden. My wife Mary and I left the US in June 2010 to buy a sail boat in the Netherlands and explore Europe. We have been doing that for the past ten years during which time we have visited 25 countries spending six or more consecutive months in six of them.

We had already been in Lisbon, Portugal for eight months when the covid-19 pandemic broke out. I think it would be instructive for American readers to learn what that looked like from the perspective of someone in Portugal and to compare and contrast the American and Portuguese approaches to the crisis and their results. It should be noted that Portugal is a very small country with a population of about 10.5 million.

First a little background. The World Health Organization confirmed the existence of the new corona virus on January 12, 2020. The first case was confirmed in Italy on January 31. Italy entered its first of many lock downs on February 22.

So the threat of the disease, if little else, was already known when the first case reached Portugal on March 2. It took only 10 days, March 12, for the Portuguese government to begin mitigation efforts. There were 78 confirmed cases in the country at the time. These efforts took the form of the near total shutdown. Gas stations and food stores were allowed to open with restrictions. There were long lines outside supermarkets. These were made longer by people standing 2 meters apart. Each store allowed only a small number of customers inside at a time. A guard stood at the door to let one customer in each time one customer left. No one was allowed in without a face mask and the guard would spray your hands with disinfectant as you went in. Yes, there was a run on toilet paper.

The requirement of masks is interesting because, at that time air borne transmission of the virus was not thought to be a significant vector. Scientists thought the virus spread primarily through surface contact.

In mid April, special restrictions were added to prevent gatherings for Easter celebrations. Bridges were closed and commuter trains were stopped. My neighborhood in Lisbon looked like a ghost town. There was no traffic. People left their homes to buy food or go to the hospital. It was also allowed to go outside for exercise but only one or two people together. Police watched the jogging paths and enforced separation. Social distancing billboards went up everywhere. Compliance was universal and no one protested. We could all see what was happening in Italy.

The easing of restrictions began on May 4. Small shops of under 2,000 sq feet were allowed to open but could admit only one or two masked customers at a time. In June, restrictions were relaxed further with the opening of large shops and malls. Most restrictions were lifted in July except in Lisbon where transmission rates were still considered too high. Although most businesses have reopened, people are still not allowed to congregate in groups larger than 10 and masks are required in all indoor public spaces except restaurants and bars. Again, compliance is universal.

Shop window in Lisbon mall

The results of these restrictions can be seen at https://covid19.min-saude.pt/ponto-de-situacao-atual-em-portugal/. New cases are stable and less than 200 per day and deaths per day are in the single digits. No one expects this to be over in less than another year and economic impacts are of course severe but, the people have adapted to the conditions.

The first confirmed cases of covid-19 in the US happened in January. There was never a nation-wide lockdown – it is a big country. The first local lockdown was in Puerto Rico on March 15 soon followed by lockdowns in San Francisco and New York. Different cities, states and counties set and relaxed different restrictions at different times. This sounds reasonable and might have worked if Americans were less mobile.

The biggest contrast from the perspective of some one living is Europe is people’s attitude. Here in Portugal the citizens have followed the rules and cooperated with the guidelines presented to them by the government and the medical community. My impression (my news sources are NPR and Aljazeera) is that this has not been the case in the US. I hear for example that only about half of Americans are wearing masks when appropriate. Why is that?

The result is, that to date, Americans have died at three times the rate (per capita) of Portuguese (479 vs 167 per million). And the gap is growing. The US still has more than one thousand deaths each day whereas Portugal has about five.

I understand that the messages Americans have received from their politicians have been mixed and contradictory when not ill informed and ridiculous but the medical community has been providing the facts as they are learned and rational advice. I have to wonder why is it harder for Americans to follow the scientific advice than it is for Europeans?

My travel photos are at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rick-pic/


Comment by Bob

August 12, 2020 @ 12:46 pm

Will be reading, Rick. Current dosage makes thst impossible. So dizzy, man..

Comment by Bob

August 12, 2020 @ 4:03 pm

Five hours later, it is an excellent article, but also one which any conscious person on this side of the pond is aware of. Thank you for writing and posting it. Sanity in this country now has representation and there is a sense of excitement now that Biden chose Harris, a very smart and well spoken Black/Asian woman to run with him.

It has taken me some time to read your story and to write this reply to you. I am taking one of two drugs to control infection and pain. One of those two drugs, which slows me w-a-y down, and which controls one type of severe pain, I was able to obtain. But the other drug, Gabapentin, which controls nerve pain, which I have taken for years, was rejected by the insurance company, because my insurance said I was already receiving it.

My surgeon telling them I temporarily needed a larger dosage due to a significant nerve-cutting surgery was to no avail. Walgreens Drug Store informed me I would be able to receive the nerve drug on August 27th, 15 days from now, or rather 90 pills from now. Consequently, I read very slowly, write very slowly and walk with difficulty. I am unable to drive due to the extreme pain.

Rick, something is wrong, something is irrational in America. Everyone is very polite, of course, but I am unable to obtain a prescribed drug for a throbing pain which can be taken three tmes a day to control it. It has taken me 30 minutes to type these 17 lines in my effort to communicate with you. Love to Mary, Bob.

Note:By Sunday, 8/16/2020, I recovered by dropping all of the drugs. I am sorry my response to your article was so long, but it seemed appropriate in that my own confusion seemed like a good representation of the irrationality of pandemic control here, or lack of it.

One person screamed in a parental school gathering that his was a religious family and that telling people to stand six feet apart (666, to him) and wear masks, was satanic and he refused to allow it. I imagine in Portugal, is very different. Good luck to you. –B

Comment by Kathleen Lachata

September 2, 2020 @ 3:15 am

So good to hear about you all. Bob and I, living in a rural area of Illinois and close to the border of Indiana, are hanging in there and in fairly good health. Everyone in this neck of the woods in Illinois and Indiana always wears a mask in Indoor public places, follows social distancing guidelines, and wash our hands. Our rates of the virus are really low. Our schools are back in session with students attending every day for three and a half hours for in person instruction with an additional 90 minutes a day at home. I’ve read that nationally our virus rates are down 40% since July.
We’re pretty much retired now and would really like to go on a vacation someday. Bob needs his shoulders replaced and I pray that he finds a really good surgeon. The hardest part of the lockdown for us was the first 3 months of not seeing our children and our granddaughter. Much better now; we see everyone at least once a week.
Bob K, I’ll pray that you find healing and a really good doctor to help you.
Love, Kathy

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