“It Feels Like We’re Being Punished For Doing It Right”

A View From Denmark On Europe’s Latest COVID-19 Wave And Lockdowns

I’ve had a pen pal in Denmark for the past 24 years. Marie-Louise Metz (or Mare as I call her) and I have been writing each other since I was 14 and she was 15. We probably would’ve stopped writing if the internet hadn’t become a thing two years after we started mailing letters. It became easier after that to chat, first via email, then on instant messenger, then on Facebook and WhatsApp. Sometimes we chat on the phone. We met fairly often while she was doing graduate studies (and dating an American soldier) in Virginia, and we met in London seven years ago for a fun weekend. Today she lives in Copenhagen with her husband and three kids. Anyway, here is an email I got from her earlier this week responded to a series of Tweets I posted about COVID-19 and Europe. I think it provides a perspective into how some Europeans feel about their early success, and their current situation, and the paradox of emotions around this crisis.

Lockdown sucks. It really does suck. During the first lockdown, we were shocked by it and by the time we adjusted to it, it was over. Then we thought we were done. The kids went to school, we went back to our lives, with masks and two metres apart. We had beat it and now we will be able to control it. Yeah, we mocked Sweden and Brazil and you for failing. Then it came back. It feels like we're being punished for doing it right. Since we did it right the first time, we are expected to do it again. The kids are miserable, my husband is miserable. I miss my mom and dad. They're saying April if we're lucky, but possibly even June. We are confused. We see numbers dropping and are told to ignore it, another surge is coming, and it's coming because there's no immunity in the population. We don't know when the vaccines are coming and we see Americans getting vaccines by the millions. It's as if any hope we have is quickly shot down and discouraged. We remind ourselves why we're doing this; to save lives, to save hospitals, for the good of the country. I can't help but feel a little jealous at your guys. There are times when I wake up and think 'okay I'm finished with this, whoever dies will die,' but then I feel guilty about that. I feel like I'm having my humanity and empathy sucked from me. 
At this point, we have sort of came to the conclusion that we will all get infected before we get the vaccine and are just hoping we don't die. It's feels like the end of the world almost. We hear about another neighbour or family who caught it, and it comes closer and closer to us. I'm more terrified now that I was at the beginning, because then I trusted that what we are doing was working and now I'm not sure anymore. All we can do is pray, and hope we still have a country after this. I had hoped and looked ahead to seeing you again after this, but now I'm not as sure we will anymore. 

For what it’s worth, experts have suggested that Denmark is doomed to another surge despite declining cases because the B117 variant, the “UK Variant.” The theory is that even though cases have declined, the proportion of cases that are of the variant is going up, meaning at some point an equilibrium will be reached and cases will grow slowly.

While such a surge is also predicted in the United States, it hasn’t happened in the UK or Israel, where here is widespread immunity, via infection or vaccination. Basically, Denmark is screwed because they managed to keep the virus from infecting most Danes, while Israel was able to vaccinate enough people fast enough and the UK responded too slow early on, creating a Spring wave that allowed some level of immunity to build. It might be what saves Americans too in the coming months. And if so, Mare would be right, still sitting in lockdown in Copenhagen. They fell victim to their own success.

UPDATE: On Friday, Mare lost her sense of smell and taste and immediately went for a COVID test, which they are turning around quickly in Denmark. She tested positive and is now in isolation away from her family. She feels well and I hope she continues to have a mild case and can return to her children quickly. What a nightmare.


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