How did the country you are residing in handled COVID?
Do you mean the government or the people?
Both. Did people generally take COVID seriously? Did they abide by the regulations?
Generally speaking, I would say Yes because it was such an unusual event that people hadn’t predicted. So, I’d say during the first lockdown that people generally accepted and followed the rules. However, I think it was difficult for young people, as some of their friends were getting COVID, but it was like a normal cold. So, they didn’t at first take it that seriously; they were thinking about arranging normal things such as birthday parties, but then it dawned on them that this wasn’t possible. It is probably more difficult for you if you like to meet up with people (younger Populus). However, generally, people my age have less trouble following the rules. I can’t talk for the other odd 60 million people, but it wasn’t so bad for me.
What do you think about the government response to COVID, e.g., the measures they took against the virus and the compensation that people received as a result of COVID?
That’s kind of mixed. The elder population were treated like they were almost invisible when the crisis started; this is where it went wrong. It’s like these people weren’t considered important. Over here, we have places where we put our elderly where it’s a mix of government and private. It felt almost like a separation, like they were outside of the system.
To some extent, centralisation was problematic as I feel that there was less clarity about what should be done at a more local level. Also, I think they weren’t straightforward at the start; I think you should trust people to understand the situation’s nuances. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. You shouldn’t come on the TV and tell people what you think when you don’t know, so they came on TV at the beginning and said you don’t need a mask, now they are saying that a mask is mandatory. The other was that all the hospital workers had to manage the situation without access to information. The public was also given information about what they can and can’t do without it being fully explained, e.g., why can we use public transport but not go to the cinema. We are grown-ups. It felt like we were infantilised. The lack of clarity about what we were supposed to do is partly behind people questioning the vaccination. We were told these pills work, then they didn’t, we were left unsure what to believe. It should have just been made clear that they didn’t know, and they should have been truthful about it, saying, ‘we’re only human; this is the first time we’ve faced such a disaster, and we’re doing the best we can. As a society, we’ve lost our trust, we don’t trust in politicians, and now have problems trusting in science. People have been saying they were slow to react. However, that’s being harsh as it’s challenging to anticipate any of this; there were many places where we’re not ready.
There is also the question of a change in working conditions. I am in IT, so home working was not an issue for me. However, people in jobs like teaching have had a hard time.
So, in terms of other ways that the government dealt with COVID, e.g., the wearing of masks, how did that work? I see that different countries have different systems. So, at the moment, I am in Belgium, and there are mask zones, so there are zones outside where you wear a mask. In England, it seems laxer, so in terms of walking outside, I’ve not seen any mask zones; the only time they police it is when people are inside shopping.
Here it’s very strict, and people wear masks outside.
Is there anything that enforces the mask-wearing?
I went into a baker and forgot that I should be wearing my mask they told me that I couldn’t come in. Sometimes they have people on public transport to enforce mask-wearing. However, it has to be something that people take responsibility for, and people are generally quite good. If you don’t respect the rules, you may be liable for a fine of 135 euros, and many people have received these fines.
One thing that has changed in terms of masks was that during the second wave, they decided it was compulsory for children above the age of 6 before that the last time (the first lockdown), it was only for people around the age of 15, which is nonsense as no one understood why. You have to remember that schools, kindergarten to high school, were opened during all the crisis and are still open today in France, schools, kindergarten to high school. However you need to be sense in education settings; if you are like two years old it’s impossible to wear a mask.
What did the government do in financial compensation in terms of people who couldn’t work during COVID?
There was a lot in the way of compensation. I don’t know if you know about France’s history, but we sometimes complain a lot. If you have any issues and feel that the government isn’t doing its job, you have a strike, even with COVID. The first thing that they did was that they had partial employment set up for all companies, and the government compensates you for the remaining days. You had tax exemptions, especially for small companies, especially if you have fewer than about 10 to 15 employees. You could have compensation of up to around 1000 a month. This is called the fond solidarité. This was surprising as you’ve had people lockdown for months; they went to this European fund with billions, which helped with social contributions. The most badly hit people were people who worked in hospitality, e.g., restaurants, as they kept them closed during the lockdown. I have a friend in the travel industry who didn’t find it that bad as he had a state loan, and it gave him time to rethink his business, went online, and found ways to spend his time productively. I also had a friend who was opening a pizzeria during the crisis; he took his business online and found it very difficult. The main people complaining were those people working in restaurants and cinemas; it was hard to make themselves heard as a single voice. I think the other people who suffered were small businesses, but I think they got enough help from the government.
What do you think the government did well compared to other countries?
I think the compensation has been adequate. We’re unsure where the money came from; we knew it was a European thing. The compensation was put in place very quickly. Our lockdown was also faster than other countries in Europe; I know it’s not one size fits all in Northern Europe; they had very few cases, but they didn’t lockdown*. But we don’t know if countries are correct about the numbers.
On the plus side, I never felt that the price of a human was more valuable than the economy.
I think they could have protected the frontline workers, such as healthcare staff, better; I remember that although the government didn’t really support the healthcare workers, the people were out there applauding them at 8 pm.
Do you have any personal stories of COVID?
I have a friend who was only 56 who died from COVID. This put into perspective that this is a dangerous virus. When you see the figures all the time of deaths in the media, it just felt like numbers, so many thousand new cases and hundreds of deaths. But when you know someone who has died, you think that this is serious.
In terms of how I feel about it personally, it felt a bit weird I was with my family; you know, with my kids, and it felt a bit strange because my family and I were with each other but doing our own thing. Papers like the guardian were saying it’s a time to reinvent yourself; however, I don’t think people want to reinvent themselves; I think they just want this thing to end so that they can go back to their life. I think even if we have a vaccine, it’s still going to stay for many months.
*perhaps they were better at social distancing