My latest article in The Telegraph: The European countries with the strictest lockdowns have come out no better

 

 

THE TELEGRAPH

 

COMMENT

 

The European countries with the strictest lockdowns have come out no better

I’ve been under different lockdowns in Spain, Austria and the UK – and still, there are no clear winners

 

(The full length and slightly edited version can be found by subscribers at The Telegraph online here.)

 

Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic I have written in these pages about the European countries in which I have suffered their various countermeasures.

I witnessed Marines patrolling the streets in one of the hardest lockdowns in Europe, Spain, where I ran a half-marathon inside a small apartment in an attempt to stay sane and fit while they locked their physically vulnerable elderly and psychologically vulnerable children away from all sunlight and exercise, despite the measurable protection these two factors offer against the virus.

I returned to England when I was allowed, and was invited to bear witness to the catastrophic collapse of the hospitality industry, with hotels and restaurants desperately trying to outweigh the off-putting countermeasures of the odour of bleach, enforced hand-sanitisation, masks, and social-distancing, by practically begging customers – and travel writers like myself – to visit.

(Thank you to the lovely Gilbeys Restaurant & Townhouse in Eton, the splendid Old Parsonage Hotel & Grill in Oxford, the comforting The Winning Post pub in Windsor Great Park and the splendour of Mossiman’s at Guards Polo Club – I hope you all make it: you certainly deserve to.)

Seeing the second lockdown coming like a sailor watching the wind moving across the water, and in search of an escape, I spoke to friends in Paris where I used to live but they had had it harder than Spain. And, while the Swedish experiment looked to me like an extraordinarily brave idea which may well work in the long run, I have neither friends nor family there with whom to enjoy the liberty.

In Austria, on the other hand, I had both, and there, after a short ,sharp lockdown, they had stalled infections by some mysterious alchemy (probably called “summer”) and were one of the most open countries in Europe. What’s more, where they did impose measures, it was done in a calm, non-judgmental manner, with healthy debate on both sides allowed.

[Note: here my article, as published in The Telegraph, differs most noticeably from the below. This was a no doubt wise editorial choice, but here I go with my original, much more complex – and differently sourced – line of argument. The published version is available to Telegraph subscribers here – AFH.]

One of my first findings on my travels, was that it is very hard to actually gauge how the measures in these different countries feel unless you have lived under them, which, for obvious reasons, most people have not.

The best attempt at putting numerical values on each measure and then comparing them in a vaguely scientific manner is the Corona Government Response Tracker of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. However, even when limited to their estimation of the stringency of government response for the handful of countries mentioned above, the graph is hard to read.

However, if you unpick it, it goes from messy to odd: does anyone really believe France’s authoritarian reaction, where one had to print out certificates to open one’s front door, was even vaguely similar to that of Sweden’s, where life appeared unchanged? Yet observe how similar their graphs appear.

When you average them out the two countries practically merge.

However, perhaps there is something to the work of these social scientists, as on the most concrete of data sets, deaths per capita from COVID-19 – and even that has problems – France and Sweden stand adjacent to one another, ranked 22nd and 23rd respectively. Meanwhile, the UK stands at 5th, Spain at 16th and Austria at 35th.

Which brings one to the question of the effectiveness of these countermeasures, and the ethics and politics – and legality which is what bridges those two fields – of imposing them.

Also, let us not forget efficacy.

One reason Austria feels like lockdown-lite is that they employ around one third of the police per capita that Spain does, and that’s even before they called in the Armed Forces.

Recently leaked emails from within the Swedish government’s epidemiology department show that much of their decision to seek – or, as they might rather phrase it, “not seek to avoid” – herd immunity  was as much as anything the combination of lack of constitutional authority, lack of enforcement capability, and lack of belief people would accept the measures, i.e. efficacy.

Until May 1st, the rest of this article can be found only at The Telegraph online here.

My postcard in The Telegraph: While Britons are imprisoned, Austrians are encouraged to get out, stay fit, and soak up vitamin D

 

 

THE TELEGRAPH

 

TRAVEL

 

While Britons are imprisoned, Austrians are encouraged to get out, stay fit, and soak up vitamin D

Cases have plummeted 90% in Austria, and without the sort of draconian rules Britain has adopted

 

With the snow piling thick on the ground in Salzburg, I am amazed at two things in Austria which I do not think are unrelated.

The first is that neither temperature nor lockdown has in any way affected the average citizens’ visibility in the streets.

When I walk out of my front door on the Nonnberg, adjacent to the ancient convent where Julie Andrew’s portrayed a novitiate in The Sound Of Music, there are invariably locals tramping up and down the stairs and slopes, wading through drifts and sliding across ice, to stare at alpine mountain ranges in the middle distance.

As they say here, there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.

The second striking fact about living in Austria is that during this ‘lockdown’ – their third – in which you may leave your house at any time of day or night for any reason, psychological or physical, they have reduced the contagion of this novel coronavirus by 90% since mid-November.

Yes, it is true that bars, restaurants and hotels are all closed, and only one person from a household may visit “close family members” or “important contacts with whom contact is maintained several times a week” in another household.

Until May 1st, the rest of this article can only be found at The Telegraph online here.

My postcard in The Telegraph: Salzburg is well-suited to lockdown – scenic, old-fashioned and healthy

Scenic, old-fashioned and healthy – Salzburg is well-suited to lockdown

Fresh air, regular exercise and a diet of moderation are all we have here until the vaccine comes

My postcard in The Telegraph: From Vienna, where common sense reigns supreme

A postcard from Vienna, where common sense reigns supreme – ‘No hysteria, no virtue-signalling’

 

In Austria, Alexander Fiske-Harrison found a completely different atmosphere to the UK

Vienna is at, indeed perhaps just is, the very heart of Europe. It was capital of the Holy Roman Empire for the majority of its thousand-year existence – until it confronted Napoleon at the Battle of the Three Emperors at Austerlitz. It was the “city of music” that made Mozart; it was the “city of dreams” that bred Freud. In 1938 the French author Albert Camus wrote, “Vienna stands at the cross-roads of history. Around her echoes the clash of empires. Certain evenings when the sky is suffused with blood, the stone horses on the Ring monuments seem to take wing.”

And yet, less than a decade later, Graham Greene would write, “I never knew Vienna between the wars, and I am too young to remember the old Vienna with its Strauss music and its easy charm; to me it is simply a city of undignified ruins.”

There was dark romanticism even in the ruins, as Greene knew, hence he made the city the third character in his and Carol Reed’s film The Third Man (although the great Orson Welles added a few lines of his own, including the famous one about the Borgias and cuckoo clocks.)

Continue reading “My postcard in The Telegraph: From Vienna, where common sense reigns supreme”

My column in The Telegraph: Gaucín – A postcard from Spain’s most picture-perfect town

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here

I finally left Seville, from where I sent my last postcard, as Spain entered what the government are calling the new normal. However, passing through Ronda I saw that the people do not necessarily agree. The term ghost town has, by necessity, been vastly overused in these pages, but what else can one say? The lovely old historic restaurants like Hermanos Macías, opposite Spain’s most historic bullring, and the classic Almocabar, named for the gate in the Moorish battlements it sits beyond, are both closed. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Gaucín – A postcard from Spain’s most picture-perfect town”

My column in The Telegraph: Seville Rises Again

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here

DAILY TELEGRAPH

Europe’s most sensuous city in a time of social distancing

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
16th June 2020

Six weeks ago I wrote about a dream of wandering the streets of Seville, far away from my prison quarantine in Jimena de la Frontera in the forested wilds of central Andalusia.

But no imagining could have been quite as dreamlike as finally stepping off the bus at the Prado de San Sebastián, where they once burned heretics, but now welcome tourists.

Photo by Nicolás Haro

The Sevillian sunlight in late June has that perfect golden slant, between the chilling white of winter and the lazy burnt yellow of true summer which comes at the end of July. The temperature here is already mid-30s in the shade and a coronavirus-cleansing 40 degrees in the sun.

I am met by my old friend, Nicolás Haro, a native of the city, who I have not seen since the pandemic began. 

“It has been strange, mi amigo, to be locked away because the government lacked the hospitals and personal protective equipment to allow us to be together. After all, we will all catch this virus.”

I agree with his fatalism, but, for the moment at least, Seville is one of the clearest places on Earth, with a mere seven Covid-19 hospital patients in a city of over a million, and just two in intensive care.

Photo by Nicolás Haro

Despite this, we drive down almost deserted streets and those people we do see are masked and separated. The bars and restaurants for which the city is famed are shuttered. Continue reading “My column in The Telegraph: Seville Rises Again”