Lessons Kiwis Should Learn From Europe’s COVID-19 Summer

Only a couple of months ago, Europe was on a trajectory to have coronavirus under control. Authorities breathed a sigh of relief, lockdown rules were relaxed, people travelled to their favourite summer holiday spots – and the number of coronavirus infections skyrocketed.

In Spain, troops have been deployed to enforce a tough new coronavirus lockdown in parts of Madrid. In England pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues must now close at 10pm as the coronavirus alert is raised to its second-highest level. Travellers returning to the UK from a holiday in France or Spain must self-quarantine for two weeks. Munich's Oktoberfest, the world's biggest beer festival, has been canned this year.

Looking at what Europe has done right and wrong could help shape our own behaviour as summer approaches.

At the beginning of September, Spain became the first European country to record more than half a million coronavirus cases. With infection rates higher than France, the UK and every other European country, coronavirus tests have indicated positive for almost one in 10 of those tested.

Government officials have pointed the finger at the country's youth who have been partying, socialising, celebrating with friends and families and disregarding rules around social distancing. Infections spread in the home are believed to be responsible for around 50 percent of cases.

Spain has responded by leaving much of the fine detail regarding guidance to regional jurisdictions. Track and trace procedures are neither uniform nor rigorous and when someone tests positive, authorities have difficulty tracing their contacts.

The leisure time and conviviality that come with summer holidays are the time when people are most likely to intermingle and ignore social distancing. Effective contact tracing, a single set of coronavirus protocols that apply to a whole country, effective communication and a road map that gives the population a clear picture of what lies ahead are vital.

Italy, the first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic, has had relative success compared to its neighbours. According to Italy's health experts, this is due to the country's rigorous lockdown, imposed earlier and for longer than in France and Spain. Italy only relaxed its tight restrictions just over a week ago.

If Kiwis don’t want to follow in the footsteps of countries in Europe that are having to re-implement strict lockdowns in the face of surging infection rates, we need to heed the tough lessons they have learned, hopefully then we can enjoy a sweet (if socially distanced) summer.