At first, the front line of Europe’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic was fought in hospitals by overstretched health care workers. Now as European countries seek to avoid the long-dreaded second wave, that line has shifted to the streets and is being manned by police forces.
In the last week, several European countries have seen record infection rates. Not since the spring have countries like France, Germany, Italy and Spain seen such a surge in the number of new cases. Countries like Greece and Croatia, largely spared by the first wave, have seen fast rises in August as tourists, taking advantage of the reopening of Europe’s internal borders in June, have headed to the beach for their summer holidays.
With authorities determined to avoid a second wave of lockdowns, legislation has been introduced to try and stop the spread of the virus. Nightclubs have been closed in Italy and in Greece, curfews introduced in Spain, Italy and Greece and facemasks made mandatory in an ever-growing number of public, outdoor spaces, in most EU countries: a gradual tightening of regulations that will now have to be enforced. The fight against Covid-19 has become, in these last couple of weeks in Europe, a matter of law and order.
Until recently many of the regulations applied to indoor businesses and were enforced by owners, or to public transport, where they were enforced by the conductors and drivers themselves. Across Europe there were reports of difficulties in the enforcement of the mask rules, from passengers who refused to wear them being made to disembark from “vaporettos,” the small boats that ferry tourists around the waterways of Venice, to the tragic killing in France of a bus conductor in July, who died after being attacked by passengers who’d been asked to put on their masks.
Now with the obligations on mask-wearing extending to the outdoors and with their enforcements shifting to the police, there is a sense of relief from many of those who had previously been in charge. “We were on the front line”, says Damien Cospanza, a bus conductor in Marseille in the south of France where mask-wearing was made mandatory in the entire city on Tuesday.
“Sadly people need to be scared. They need be fined for them to understand that it is mandatory, especially in a city like Marseille. People won’t listen much to a conductor but they will listen to the police.”
But if the burden has shifted from conductors and shopkeepers to the police, there is now a question of overstretch over the long-term, as regulations tighten and the number of cases continues to grow.