Fortress Europe is no longer the case, Covid-19 exploring its vulnerability with free movement and lack of border controls.
Europe had a 3 week head-start to prepare for the arrival of Covid-19, but now it appears most countries were, at best, only half-serious about this threat. Italy seem to have been totally wrong-footed.
I can’t help but to think most European countries will be unable to manage Covid-19 the way China did. They won’t achieve the same results given the same amount of time. Compared to China, they lack the resources, the experience and, fundamentally, the discipline.
So it’s very much a case of China having shown the world, again, what they are capable of. And now taking a back seat to see how good ol’ Europe — a continent convinced it’s still some kind of reference to the world — will perform.
Now this is concerning not only because it’s my home country where I have friends and relatives. I’m mostly concerned because Portugal seems so unprepared for what’s coming.
This is the country where a month ago the head of its National Health Service stated beyond belief that Covid-19 reaching a global scale was unlikely — Portugal need not worry too much, she thought.
It’s amazing how at this day and age you still find Eurocentric people thinking Far East as a concept still valid.
Authorities in Portugal keep saying Covid-19’s evolution is being observed with readiness and contingency plans on hand.
Yet so far we haven’t seen any holistic plan. In fact, we see the most bizarre things that suggest exactly the opposite, like a video produced by health authorities advising people not to wear a mask. Thanks for the advise, but no thanks.
Take this: as I write these lines, in Portugal no border procedures are in place — it’s business as usual for passengers coming from high risk countries. There’s no control on arrival, they just walk in freely.
From the health authorities you get some loose recommendations, mostly to be followed on a voluntary basis. Mind me, self-discipline had never been a Portuguese forte.
Still, most Portuguese are relaxed and think Covid-19 is rather a case of over reaction and excessive panicking. Stats and comparisons with other diseases are commonly used to support this idea.
I struggle to understand the logic. On stats alone, air travel is overwhelmingly safer than driving a car. So let’s ditch all safety measures and not fasten seat belts when boarding a plane?
This is not only about the mortality rate. There are reports of fully recovered patients with permanent damages in their lungs. Not to mention, on the other hand, the disruptions to your country’s normal operation and the resulting economic loss.
Now forget all this and try some common sense:
Would a country like China — with ambitions to become a superpower, battled and bruised from a head-to-head trade war with the US just recently — stop its own economy based on no solid reason?
Ignorance / Arrogance
A quick walk through the comments in social media and you realize most Portuguese regard China as a primitive country, with highly populated cities lacking basic sanitation and proper hygiene standards.
This is how some people justify Covid-19’s situation in China and, nonchalantly, expect things to be less dramatic in Portugal.
Stupidity and xenophobic views aside, this needs to be seen from the angle that most Portuguese don’t travel much and, when they do, they seldom step-out of Europe.
Add to this the fact that Portugal still suffers from being the westernmost country in Europe, historically with less exposure to global trends, and you sort of understand why this all happens.
For most, Asia is a remote place so so so distant, the distance being such, that it’s realistically unreachable. So what happens there does not belong to their world.
Asia is an obscure phenomena, a reality so difficult to grasp and accept for it’s completely different from their concept of how the world should be. So for being so different, it’s actually erratic. Asia it’s therefore an aberration — but an exotic one for a trip somewhere down the line when money allows.
Asia as an economic and service hub does not exist in their thinking — dragons flying around, smoke coming out their nostrils, that’s Asia. They have no clue how the worldwide supply chain operates these days and, most critically, they are unaware of how the world had grown dependent on China.
A dependency that had long departed the cheap, low-tech copycat manufacturing nonsense from days past, but had instead reached a high-end technological plateau where billions of Renminbi are spent on R&D by powerful companies like Huawei.
Most Portuguese won’t understand this because they were never exposed to this new world order while happily complaining about their lives, watching football and navel-gazing in their corners, confined within the boundaries of Europe.
Let’s make a pause here for emphasis — trust me I know what I’m saying because I had seen this all during my time living in Portugal as a weird, Chinese-looking Portuguese from overseas that never really made sense to most of them.
It gives me no satisfaction writing this. I’m not a hater, it’s just that as a Portuguese living in China you tend to nurture this love / hate relationship with your home country.
I’m dealing with the contradictions of coming out proud with the way my hometown Macau handled the Covid-19 situation, and now having to deal with the exasperation of witnessing my home country doing exactly the opposite.
Their carefree approach to Covid-19 feels utterly arrogant and insulting.
Why so serious
Ultimately, Portugal as a country can be some sort of joke sometimes — and we are all used to this by now.
People won’t get serious about serious things and, worst of all, people are used to this general lack of seriousness. In fact, if you are too serious, people will laugh and ask you why so serious. You will be known as a stressado in no time.
But don’t you dare questioning whoever’s seriousness performing his duties, because that’s when things get really serious: even the laziest and most incompetent of them all will hit you back with the best of his best morale speech on seriousness.
It almost makes you thing he is serious about it.
Whatever the case, in Portugal we are allowed to be blindly optimistic in the most difficult circumstances because we always end up finding impromptu solutions while never preparing and planning things in advance.
We prefer to desenrascar, which is the ability to find a creative way out in an adverse situation. It’s a very unique Portuguese thing and, just like Saudade, you won’t find the exact equivalent of this word in English.
Ultimately, this will be the strategy to tackle Covid-19 — desenrascar.
I hope it works because, if not, we will have to deal with the unfortunate side effect of people dying and an already fragile economy being torn apart to become even weaker than it already is.
But let’s give the benefit of doubt and see how things unfold.
Maybe I’m over reacting.