Kiisler: European elite managing the coronavirus fall from a warm office

Indrek Kiisler.
Indrek Kiisler. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The coronavirus crisis drags back into the light the recently somewhat overlooked fact that society is made up of two parts, with the educated, wealthy and protected elite on the one side and those who need to look to their own devices to survive the coronavirus and its effects on the other, Indrek Kiisler finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

I was recently listening to a radio talk show where journalists criticized people returning from abroad for going back to work after testing negative for COVID-19. "I stayed home, worked from home and didn't even consider turning up," one of the hosts exclaimed.

Such calls are born out of sociological shortsightedness. While everyone who uses a computer for work, including journalists, can continue working in isolation, it is downright impossible for many others.

Of course, managing the coronavirus crisis is largely in the hands of the public sector in Europe. And these people aren't even looking at pay cuts, not to mention layoffs. This instinctively helps when it comes to making decisions because everything seems fine around those making them – people are receiving regular salary and the central bank printing money will keep us afloat.

For example, let us close everything down in November, freezing the economy and pausing all life. Policy directors, presidents and prime ministers all over Europe promise to pay for everything. Besides, it is unpleasant to have to walk to the office in the bleak fall smog, so why shouldn't everyone just stay home?

The European elite is completely safe for now, life is exciting even. While restaurants are going out of business one after another, you can pay €10 for a lunch offer and feel like a king in an empty dining hall.

But the restaurant has a waiter who cannot work from home. Its dishwasher and cook also have to take a crowded train or bus to work and back again every single day. Europe has hundreds of millions of people like that – people who work in factories, transport goods, guard the border. The examples are endless.

The coronavirus crisis drags back into the light the recently somewhat overlooked fact that society is made up of two parts, with the educated, wealthy and protected elite on the one side and those who need to look to their own devices to survive the coronavirus and its effects on the other. The uneducated are told to go to school if they want to stop working themselves to death at a supermarket's checkout, being constantly sprayed by droplets of COVID-19-infected saliva flung from the mouths of customers.

The educated (usually public sector) employee works from home, handing down instructions and popping to the supermarket every now and again. And if they cannot be bothered to go shopping, they can always order in. The dividing line is increasingly based on education as we are moving toward a society that has an educated upper class for which others need to ensure the good life.

Businessmen making superhuman efforts to keep their companies going and whose life's work can be negated with one click by a public servant sitting behind their computer at home are also defenseless. However, even the words of private sector executives count for nothing in Europe today as they are rather perceived as a bloody nuisance in a situation where great statesmen are combating a flu-like respiratory virus.

The coronavirus crisis definitely has at least one upside in that it has broadened Estonians' horizons. We often feel that our homespun ministers and agency heads make decisions hurriedly and based on nothing at all and are reluctant to listen to the experts. However, compared to the twitching taking place in Finland and Western Europe, our government has maintained common sense and a calm and level-headed approach.

Because politicians and health officials are "scoring points" by freezing public life absolutely everywhere in Europe. It is understandable. More complex coronavirus strategies do not yield immediate results, which fact quickly leads to accusations that the rulers are doing nothing.

There is no room for experimentation. That is precisely why we have harebrained curfews, gyms told to close doors and countries forcing elementary school students to study from home again. While these steps drew criticism from doctors, the important thing is to come off forceful. Countries are following the example of China in spring – a totalitarian society that went the way of blanket shutdown.

But all of it is happening with the approval of the majority. It sounds masochist, but empty collective suffering lends mankind strength. We feel better after we spend some time collectively punishing each other over a careless person's behavior. The coronavirus has become a European original sin.

Instead of isolating patients, we isolate entire cities and countries. It is far more unpopular to tell people to wear masks, keep distance, wash hands and follow all other self-explanatory precautions day in, day out. Policemen holding assault rifles, fighting the virus come off much cooler. Those who gave the order watch all of it on the evening news and rub their hands together in joy. A good call, everyone can see I have switched defeating the virus into overdrive.

We are in for a rough coronations winter. Even solitary confinement cannot fully stop viral diseases, they will always return. And yet, it is being obtusely attempted, taking life one day at a time. We will have the virus under control in November, the German chancellor promises. Here, have some money until that happens.

Perhaps they will manage in November. But isn't November followed by December, January, February and March? Whereas seasons have the tendency of repeating. What will happen next fall or the one after that? We could just as well suggest people leave their cars at home to avoid thousands of deaths in November.

The layer of fat necessary to keep the economy going is wearing thin now and printing more money will soon be of no use. And what will happen then is dozens of times worse than it would be to lose a few million people in Europe. Also in terms of human lives. No one is safe, even though a part of the elite might feel they can just look on by isolating themselves. Unfortunately, this cannot go on forever, and those talking about a new normality are clearly deluding themselves.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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