It’s 12 March 2020. The World Health Organization has declared that COVID-19 is not a hoax perpetrated by the liberal media, but a genuine threat. Certain Americans are giving Europe the side eye. I want to take a moment to give you my perspective on Finland in the time of pandemic.
Finland has 45 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of this writing. Most of them are in Helsinki, which makes sense as it’s the largest city, the capital, and where most international travelers will arrive and depart. The majority are tourism-related, with only 2 or 3 attributed to community spread.
Here in central Finland there are 3 confirmed cases, which are under quarantine. My understanding is that they’re all in the hospital that I can see from my window. That proximity might freak some people out. I find it reassuring. The facility is brand-new, cutting edge, fully-funded, and adequately staffed. It was specifically designed to serve as the equivalent of a FEMA command post in the event of war, natural disaster, or outbreak. In other words, it was made for this sort of thing.
People are screened as they enter the country, and have been since right after the first cases were being reported in Italy. I have been told this entails being asked questions about symptoms and possible exposure, being pulled aside for testing, and erring on the side of quarantine. No flights are being cancelled, no walls are being built, authorities just jumped on this early and applied common sense.
Business as Usual
Nothing is closed. Social distancing, hand washing, and other hygiene-related basic public health measures are things the average Finn already does. What would you expect from a country with an outstanding education system and a fantastic universal health care system? No one wants the flu du jour in any year, at any time.
There are already social safety nets in place in terms of paid sick leave, and programs to ensure that everyone has food and shelter. Wifi is ubiquitous. If people have to miss work to self-quarantine for a couple of weeks, it’s not something most people will have to worry about. Most of Europe’s toilet paper is made here from Finnish trees, and we have bidets, so there’s been no hoarding.
The Dark Side
There have been incidents of racism. We have a lot of international students, many of whom come from China and South Korea. We unfortunately also have actual f’n Nazis, so this doesn’t mix well under normal circumstances. For the most part, though, things don’t seem to be any worse than normal on that front. A lot of name calling and chest-thumping, not a lot of violence.
A great deal of anxiety has naturally been expressed about foreign students. Most arrive at the start of the semester and don’t leave until the end, so they’ve been here since January. If they were carriers, it would be apparent by now. If this pandemic continues into the summer, I think there will be more concern about new student arriving for the autumn semester. Precautions will still be in place then, and likely new ones added, so I’m not worried about an outbreak.
Finland in the Time of Pandemic
Katie and I are both working from home at the moment, so if there is an outbreak our exposure will be limited. I’d begun to let our winter provisions dwindle was the weather gets nicer, but we just made a stock-up run. During the harsher months I keep enough supplies on hand so that I don’t have to go shopping if the snow gets too deep or the temperatures fall dangerously low. We can probably go for two, possibly three weeks without leaving the apartment if we have to.
We’ve both had a dry cough for a couple of weeks, but we know why. There are issues with an unhygienic resident and their cat. A water leak has likely caused a mold problem. Pranksters set a fire that sent smoke into the ventilation system. All of these are being addressed, but until the weather is warmer and we can open the windows to air the place out the coughing will likely persist.
I am not worried about Katie and I, or about Finland in the time of pandemic. Italy remains worrisome, because there are so many people already sick, dead, and grieving. There’s no way to tell what’s actually happening in Iran, but we know that it’s bad and my heart goes out to the people there. South Korea and China seem to be getting a handle on things.
Truth is Indivisible
The situation in the United States scares me, frankly, because so many people are in denial. To ignore the testimony of certified medical experts, while blindly believing and elevating the uninformed opinions of pundits on Twitter seems utterly mad. The jockeying to protect ideology, financial interests, and fragile egos over human health and safety is bafflingly Kafkaesque. I used to fear that we’d all die of ignorance. Now I’m almost certain that it will be selfishness that kills us all.