Published on August 23, 2021
The United States is again locked in partisan controversy over how to contain the delta variant of the coronavirus. Both sides might take a look across the Atlantic to European countries’ methods.
I experienced these firsthand this summer. Six days in Iceland were followed by 17 days in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. Almost all of that time was spent in large, densely populated cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. These are exactly the sort of places one might expect to find strictly enforced, strong anti-covid rules. In fact, it was precisely the opposite.
Take social distancing. Each country had recommended distancing rules like the United States, but Iceland, for example, recommends only one meter separation between people; that’s about three feet, or roughly half the distance suggested here. Others recommended 1.5 meters, or a bit less than five feet. Neither difference may seem like a lot, but restaurant and shop owners desperate to stay afloat can fit more customers into their spaces. That surely helps these businesses stay in business and does not significantly increase the virus’s spread.
One also isn’t constantly reminded of the rules with signs on windows and stickers on the floors. I saw virtually none of those nanny-state efforts in any of the countries I visited, with the notable exceptions of public transport and government-operated buildings. Each of these nations has notably larger and more powerful national governments than the United States, yet each seems willing to trust its citizens to do the right thing without hounding them.