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Published: 27 march 2020 13:19

Juozas Olekas: COVID-19 – a Challenge to Physical and Psychological Health

Juozas Olekas, MEP
Juozas Olekas, MEP

It has been four months since the coronavirus broke out in Europe and, according to scientists, the virus has as yet not reached its peak. We must learn from other countries and avoid repeating the same mistakes. Since the beginning of the outbreak, over 530 thousand cases have been recorded with the death toll reaching almost 24 thousand, Juozas Olekas, Member of the European Parliament, Social democrat said.

Most cases are now occurring outside of China, and the virus has spread to over 100 countries. Scientists say that in the best-case scenario, the spread of the virus and the epidemic should slow down this August.

That is why the aim of European governments must now be to guarantee not only extreme health protection for the whole population but also the rights of workers and to create appropriate conditions for self-isolation. It is also important to note the trend in the spread of COVID-19 in different countries is very similar. Finally, although the virus poses a significant challenge to our physical health, we cannot isolate ourselves from the world around us in any way.

Most countries going the way of Italy

The spread of the virus in all countries of the EU has a specific tendency. We can see that from the onset of the virus up the country's reaction, declaration of a state of emergency and limitation of social contact, the number of new cases and deaths follows a trend and a similar trajectory.

In the first week in Italy, as of the 100th case of the virus, the numbers increased from 155 to 1694 cases (more than ten times), in Germany from 130 to 1040 cases (8 times) and in Spain from 120 to 1073 (almost nine times). In the first stage, the spread of the virus developed as it did in Italy in terms of days. The average number of new cases per day in the countries most hit by the virus reached 33% (Financial Times information). We must, of course, take into account that in most countries, including Lithuania, testing was not open to all and so the real number of cases is far more significant than the statistics we have.

It's only now that in certain countries we are seeing a slow stabilisation that has come in the wake of stringent government reaction, quarantine, maximum limitations on social contact and even punishment for leaving one's home without a valid reason.

A challenge to physical and psychological health

When the first case of the virus was reported in Lithuania, the reaction was ambiguous – actions, which were not fully explained, cause panic amongst the public. Empty shelves in the shops and lack of communication in the country put things briefly out of control. Not long after that, a quarantine was declared in Lithuania, and partial restrictions on movement and social contact were introduced. Unfortunately, experience in other countries showed that partial restrictions on social contact did not stop the spread of the virus and after partial restrictions, far more stringent restrictions followed – maximum restriction of contact to stabilise the situation on a national level.

When the Lithuanian government responded and declared a quarantine, the veracity of the situation was missed. When a quarantine is declared, all subsequent scenarios, such as the continuation of education, social security for the population, residents in need of additional help on a daily basis and appropriate support for emergency workers such as health workers, police and fire brigades, must be considered. We were also fell short of the means for ensuring all civil rights and appropriate unemployment payouts – it is of course, not the people's fault that they cannot go to work because of the quarantine. When the schools were closed because of the quarantine, parents should have received sick pay for 30 days instead of 14 days with the option to extend this period. One would like to answer one mother's question that I heard: "I've been collecting a newsletter for two weeks now and what's next?".

It is also necessary to ensure monitoring, consultation and regulation not only of state-owned enterprises but also of the private sector to prevent violations of workers' rights, forced leave or threats of dismissal. We must take a step and look beyond not only to bring the spread of the virus under control as quickly as possible and protect people but also to provide everyone with the necessary social security.

The international reaction is, of course, also unusual. On an EU level, we must not act alone: The solidarity of the member states in this emergency is especially important. Sharing medical supplies, providing medical services across the borders and economic assistance must be the priority of each EU state. Even though the European Commission has asked member states not to block the export of medical supplies, some states like Romania ignore this.

We expect and demand more stringent regulation from the European Commission – as it stands now we cannot abandon member states that have relied on long-term cooperation and assistance between countries, restricted from the resources they need to protect the lives and safety of their people. Although the Commission was late in presenting its proposals to the European Parliament, we'll be voting on these proposals this week already. In essence, it's in all of Europe's interests to respond and help each other without delay. Indeed, our unity is in our solidarity which we must now not only show but also guarantee.

These times may be trying not for one's physical health, but also one's psychological health. Let us not forget that it is now that our solidarity is especially important: pick up the phone and call your loved ones and friends, ask them how they are. Currently in Europe "video dinners "are all the rage where people who are confined to their homes host video calls, play board games or find different ways to spend times "together ".

Also, take breaks while observing, reading or listening to the news, including social networks. Try to eat healthily, well-balanced food, exercise regularly, sleep a lot and avoid alcohol. Set aside time to relax, find a hobby. If you feel that the psychological burden or loneliness is becoming uncontrollable, consult professionals.

Although we have to isolate ourselves physically, let's not distance ourselves from the world around us and let's not forget those close to us and those who at this time may need help.

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