A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved
Jenny May Medlicott, Foreign Correspondent, examines the way in which European countries are cooperating through the Coronavirus pandemic.
Before Europe officially became the epicentre for the Coronavirus, Italy was the first country to bear the brunt of its steady spread across Europe. In early March, a poll carried out in Italy indicated 88% of Italians felt their pleas for support from Europe were being ignored. A statistic which highlights what was, initially, a lukewarm response from Europe concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, and a case of inaction that has since proven to have unfortunate consequences across the continent.
There’s no doubt that the delayed response from Europe was a costly and significant setback, but one that has since been softened by an inspiring sense of solidarity fostered amongst European countries. In recent weeks, Europe has observed some exceptional cross-border efforts: the Czech Republic imported 10,000 masks to Spain; Polish doctors travelled to Italy to relieve to support their struggling health service; Germany opened their hospitals to Northern Italy’s patients, and countries such as Bulgaria and Austria have shared their protective equipment with harder hit regions of the virus. As efforts to cooperate with other countries increase, so does Europe’s collective effort to rectify their initial failures and eliminate the virus that impedes life, as we know it.
the delayed response from Europe was a costly and significant setback, but one that has since been softened by an inspiring sense of solidarity
Alongside a €2.8 trillion investment in European countries, strategies devised by the EU places teamwork at the forefront of the solution, from ‘SURE’, a scheme designed to protect individuals’ incomes and businesses, as well as the more pivotal ‘ventilator scheme’. The ventilator scheme is amongst the union’s four key objectives for navigating the crisis – it aims to work towards “ensuring the provision of medical equipment” across the continent, by bringing countries together to purchase medical equipment, rather than individually. If successfully executed, the scheme will ensure that no country participating will struggle from a lack of funding or supplies.
However, in light of the EU’s new and potentially game-changing ventilator scheme, the UK government has come under scrutiny for declining the opportunity to participate. Whilst the UK’s departure from the EU took place at the end of January, legislation from David Cameron’s time in office preserved Britain’s eligibility to be included in such a scheme until December 2020. As one of just two EU countries that will not be participating, Michael Gove has commented on the UK’s position, stating that discussions with the NHS have determined there is ”nothing that we can’t do as an independent nation that being part of that scheme would allow us to do”.
the UK government has come under scrutiny for declining the opportunity to participate.
Gove’s statement suggests the country is sufficiently equipped to handle the pandemic, a suggestion that he attempts to back-up with information on the government’s procurement of 8000 ventilators for the NHS. However, as the UK’s infection rate surpasses 100,000, the numbers supplied by Gove seem less than adequate when the NHS is already almost at breaking point. Comparatively, the health secretary Matt Hancock admitted, “No number [of ventilators] is too high”, rendering the decision not to participate a poor one, which has since been dubbed “Brexit over breathing”. The government has prioritised a Brexit Britain-first approach rather than accepting an offer that could bring the NHS much-needed relief. The Coronavirus is not an opportunity for Britain to exercise post-Brexit independence, and instead, should be accepted for what it is, a common enemy that is better fought together.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time since the spread of the virus in Europe that the British government has failed to take the necessary steps to protect the public. The initial “herd immunity” approach ignored pleas from the NHS that they would not survive such a strategy and relied upon a premise that even now, has not yet been proven. Other countries such as Ireland, however, showed a more efficient response to the virus. Almost 2 weeks before the UK, Ireland went into lockdown, and since have already shown slowing rates of infection. Now, the disparity between Ireland and the UK’s situation only serve as a reminder of a lost opportunity to get ahead of the virus before its full impact hit.
the government has prioritised a Brexit Britain-first approach rather than accepting an offer that could bring the NHS much-needed relief.
From my perspective, despite the government’s continual display of failures over the last few weeks, the British public inspires real, vital glimpses of hope. From teachers producing visors to donate to hospitals, to people stepping outside to applaud those working for the NHS, the country is working to uphold morale and offer their support to those on the frontline of the pandemic in any way they can. The country may be enveloped in uncertainty and the future scary, but the UK has made it clear they will not give up on the hope that binds us. As Leyen identified, “solidarity is infectious” and it is my hope that is what will get the world through this pandemic.