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They seemed, this time last year, almost unimaginable: the most severe restrictions imposed on a western nation since the second world war. “The whole of Italy is closed now,” was the shocked headline in Corriere della Sera the next day.
On 9 March 2020, a population of more than 60 million was ordered to stay at home, permitted to venture out only under specific circumstances – solitary exercise close to home, grocery shopping, going to the doctor – on pain of a €400-€3,000 fine.
Schools, universities and all non-essential businesses were shut down. Only supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and post offices could stay open. All travel within the country was banned, except on health or other urgent grounds.
But within days, much of the continent had followed suit. By 18 March, half the population of Europe, more than 250 million people, were in lockdown, with cases of coronavirus doubling in some countries every three, or even two, days.
And a year later, with some countries only recently relaxing second or sometimes third lockdowns and others still contemplating extensions, the extreme measures first imposed in Italy a year ago on Tuesday no longer seem so shocking.
Apart from a brief summer break, much of continental Europe has been without some its most defining customs for the best part of 12 months: loitering on cafe terraces, lingering over restaurant lunches, greeting with a kiss on both cheeks.
In their place have come new habits – the heresy of takeaway coffee, internet shopping, elbow bumps. Some novelties are welcome: especially in southern Europe, a mass of hitherto irksome bureaucracy has moved, at least partially, online.
Lockdown also changed European perceptions and priorities. Nearly 70% of people felt permanent change at work was inevitable, according to a poll after France’s first lockdown last year, with more than 80% wanting to work more from home in future.
Six in 10 felt their spending patterns had changed, with 74% ready to pay more for products made nationally. Half said they would value relationships with friends and family more. Nearly 40% wanted more space at home, a balcony, a garden.
“We have seen something similar after other major crises such as the financial crash or the 2015 terror attacks in Paris,” said Frédéric Daby of pollster Ifop. “On those occasions, inertia – status quo – has always proved stronger than desire for change.”
This time may be different, Daby said. “Lockdown hugely accelerated trends that existed already. This has been a once-in-a-generation event, changing attitudes to consumer behaviour, jobs, homes. It’s too soon to say if these will prove permanent, civilisational shifts, but the collective psychology has certainly moved.”
The downsides of lockdown, however, have been equally marked – more so since a second, sometimes heavier round of restrictions returned after the summer. Germans, one recent study found, are struggling much more with mental health issues during their second lockdown than the first.
Researchers at the Saarland University found life satisfaction had “decreased significantly – worries, stress and depression have all increased,” the project leader, Dorota Reis, said. People’s assessments of society have also “changed drastically”.
During the first lockdown, Reis said, society was seen as coming closer together; now the feeling is it is “rather selfish, and drifting apart”. It was too early to say whether moods would improve when measures were lifted, she said, as happened last year.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘A once-in-a-generation event’: lessons from a year of lockdown in Europe | World news