Since the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Europe has changed in many ways. Lockdowns and isolation have left the busiest shopping malls, religious and touristic places, universities and restaurants either fully or partially empty. When was the last time you saw London so quiet? A city of over 9 million people, and you could hear a pin drop on the roads.
Much has changed in the last few weeks, including people’s shopping habits, work lives and means of entertainment to name just a few. Imagine being isolated, housebound and with no weekend gatherings or carousing.
Although Brits are more reserved in nature in comparison to their fellow Europeans, it will be interesting to see what isolation and lockdown mean for them in particular as social distancing settles in.
Everyone has a story to share. We have seen everything from the fighting of panicking shoppers in supermarkets, to violators of social distancing calls. How did Europe respond to previous pandemics, and was it different from what is happening now? Perhaps too many questions need answers.
A visible rise in public fear
Europe has overcome numerous such calamities in the past. Of these, the most deadly was the Spanish flu pandemic that infected 500 million people globally, almost one-third of the population at that time.
A century ago, there were no effective drugs or vaccines for the threat of a killer strain of influenza that killed over 50 million. But despite such an onslaught, Europe survived. So what has changed since then?
George Turner’s piece “Tax avoiders will receive coronavirus bailout – we must redress this injustice,” Martin Kettle’s “We simply don’t know what kind of Britain will awake from all this” and Gaby Hinsliff’s article “Anger over Prince Charles’s COVID-19 test is a warning sign of divisions to come” are all admonitory pieces that point to rising tensions.
Fear and lack of trust can be seen in the clear inequalities between how those working in different industries have been affected, with a distinction for those that are vital and running the show, such as supermarket workers and carers. These workers are now being shown the respect they deserve, even if their pay packets don’t reflect the value of their work.
These complaints can be settled, but what will remain will be how a pandemic changed the course of life in Europe, where personal freedoms mean nothing but at the same time everything to a common person in the street. The lockdown has been enforced mostly voluntarily with little use of force, and opposition has declined. Imagine what it will bring if this lockdown continues over the summer. We hope it won't.
A developing sense
Outside the window, the world is changing for good. I hear wonderful tales of community spirit in various parts of Britain. Of the many storytellers, I embrace Chelsey Needham and Nicola Clarke's eye-witness accounts as a sign of hope. These ladies have witnessed a true sense of collectiveness, a genuine community spirit
In Leeds, London and beyond, Muslim and non-Muslims are getting together to reach out to the vulnerable and elderly. These aid groups are run by countless people devoted to spreading the common good.
Everyone is talking about rainbow drawings on windows. An emerging trend offered as a sign of thanks to NHS staffers, bin collectors and all frontline workers across the U.K. Thousands of volunteers are out to help the vulnerable, with yet more considering taking part every day.
One of the most beautiful things about self-isolation has to be having families at home. Moms and dads finally having enough time to see their kids. Britain may be moving back to its traditional values and a family-oriented society. But the question is whether this continues or not in the post-COVID-19 era.
*British-Pakistani political analyst and human rights activist based in the U.K.