26th of February. I’ll remember this date for long time. Not only because it is a birthday of one of my best friends, but because of how the pandemic began in Switzerland exactly one year ago.On the 26th of February 2020 I was watching the TV , regional, local and world news, and with dismay realized that Covid cases are popping up in Lugano, Basel, Geneva, Lausanne, and that Swiss government seemed also to be just watching what is happening. Italy had a major crisis, and nobody asked people who traveled to Northern Italy to isolate or go to test themselves. No controls, nowhere.
And I will remember those talks on Swiss TV, with a news presenter moderating a discussion on what should be done. With an unbuttoned casual shirt to show off his hairy chest, taking theatrical poses with fingers on his mouth, he concluded this TV program referring to a common flu season and how every year 50’000 people die from it (I don’t know in which country), so there is no reason to panic.I was supposed to travel to Zürich for a professional event and was seriously thinking to cancel it. In the end I didn’t take the train, but went there with my car. I was keeping distance with everyone and right after my presentation left the event. I remember the team meeting with my manager the same day, where he said: “Coronavirus has arrived. But it is what it is, life goes on and we are not going now to sit at home all the time and don’t go anywhere”. I was watching his face, and I felt sure that we will not meet in person for quite some time.
And I will remember a small shop on the way back to Geneva with full shelf of small disinfectant bottles. I wanted to buy ten, but I changed my mind and I grabbed four, which turned to be enough for almost 6 months. I will also remember empty shops ten days later, when people realized that the situation is more difficult than “just a flu” season. Luckily I bought earlier all we needed, except baking powder and yeast, which we lacked for several months.
And about masks. How Daniel Koch, the Head of Swiss Health Department was actively advising people not to wear masks as they are harmful and don’t protect against coronavirus. The debate about masks was limited to a handful of us on LinkedIn who started talking and sharing that this is just a madness; that China, Taiwan and South Korea know very well what to do and are actually doing much better in containing the pandemic, so we should use their experience. It was a hard, uphill battle, as Mr Koch was very consistent in his anti-mask campaign. The way how it looks nowadays, it seems we will soon forget how people look like without masks here in Europe.
And the first parliament session in March, when a deputy came with a mask, and she was asked either to remove the mask from her face or leave the conference room. She left the room. Other deputies finished their session and went their homes to stay there in their lockdowns for more than three months.
All in all, nothing to be proud about the way how Western nations and especially Swiss leadership managed this crisis from the very beginning. Insufficient measures, lack of preparedness, too much compromises, wrong advice, and in the end instead of few months with minimal impact, we are seeing mutations, repeated lockdowns, prolonged psychological problems, isolation, conspiracy theories of all kinds, poverty, unemployment as shops and many businesses are suffering already for one year.
There is light at the end of this tunnel. But the tunnel seems also to be very long, so we still have to walk for some time to get there. Some people would joke that this might actually be the light of a train coming towards us, but for now I would not be such a pessimist.
February 26, 2021