“The Brussels Diary with Yana Toom”: Message From Quarantine


As you can see, I am writing my Brussels diary at home in quarantine. The EU has become the centre of coronavirus pandemic. What is even more frightening is not what will happen in the next two months, but after that.

The coronavirus is the most serious challenge for the economy and healthcare system. Even more so, it is a test on solidarity. We are not doing that well in that respect. The EU Member States are taking individual action without coordination. The European Central Bank almost excluded themselves. The European Commission is ready to give up the restriction on public aid for businesses and allocate economic aid in the amount of 37 billion euros; however, it is too little. The USA will pour 700 billion dollars into stimulating its economy, and it steeply decreased the interest rate to one quarter of a per cent to motivate businesses to take out credit. In the European Union, the interest rates are already negative.

The problem, though, is that standard measures do not work. A new Great Depression is looming before us. In these conditions, the economy must be enlivened using other methods, such as public work projects, as President Roosevelt did. If we introduce tax relief as the only measure, as some suggest, it would help people with high income, but the unemployed and retired would be left empty-handed. Any social package must be versatile. The aid intended for businesses should focus more on ensuring that employees are not laid off. I remind you that the government simplified the layoff procedure in 2009 and nothing good came of it.

The next month and a half will be the most challenging for the healthcare system. If the doctors are right and the epidemic is in its initial stage, the healthcare system will have an extreme load to carry. There will be a lack of money, people and beds in intensive care. Yes, it is likely that Brussels will help us, but what I am afraid of is that their first concern will be to help those in a direr situation than we are. This is the reason why you have to stay at home, if possible, and not spread the virus and put human lives at stake.

That the government takes a loan of one billion euros is an extraordinary step; however, a right one: we have to be prepared for the worst. It is unclear whether this money will be enough to stimulate the economy. Still, there is no other choice. Sceptics argue that there is no need to take credit, forbid concerts, close restaurants and borders, because this virus is nothing, it is only like a flu. Yes, maybe we can live on after contracting the virus, but the elderly and the poor with weaker immunity are at risk of not surviving this crisis. Not everything can simply be measured in monetary terms in this world.

This is why the European Union and Estonia will not behave like the UK, where it was decided not to take any specific measures: let people get sick and build up herd immunity and to hell with the victims. It is far better to act like Germany where no measures are ruled out: they are discussing not only tax relief but also the partial nationalisation of companies to avoid them going bankrupt.

By the way, Germany is better prepared for an epidemic than other European countries, as they have the highest number of intensive care beds per one hundred thousand people. Nevertheless, this is a capitalistic healthcare system where everything is optimised and is not ready for black swan events. I feel the same way as those who think that the coronavirus will change the economy. However, these changes could be for the worse. During the Great Depression, due to a distrust in the failing government, Europe voted for Nazism. If we do not want this to be repeated, we already have to start thinking about tomorrow today.

Stay well and we will meet again next week.