The Christian Science Monitor : 2020-12-07

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PERSPECTIV­ES LONDON Lockdown to liberty, and back again T his is a story about seesaws. But not the kind you find in your neighborho­od playground. It’s about policy seesaws, now playing out in a pandemic-fraught Europe, as government­s have swung from strict lockdowns to relaxed tolerance and now back again. And their example has implicatio­ns an ocean away, as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden prepares to assume office in January. One lesson may seem obvious, but it still matters hugely. The pandemic hasn’t gone away and it’s not likely to do so soon. A scientist behind the new Pfizer vaccine told the BBC it would not allow a “normal” life for another year. As the head of the World Health Organizati­on, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu­s, put it recently, “We might be tired of COVID-19. But it’s not tired of us.” While each European government has chosen its own level of lockdown in recent weeks, the new restrictio­ns all have something in common: They were imposed suddenly after months of relative official insoucianc­e. Over the summer, Europeans lulled themselves into an assumption that after the COVID-19 onslaught in the spring, the worst of the pandemic was over and things were under control. Their government­s knew this was unlikely to be true, but they faced a political problem: how to convince citizens who were reveling in a return to their familiar lives that COVID-19 was “not tired” of them and that they should behave accordingl­y, with caution. If they had succeeded, they could perhaps have relied on mask-wearing and physical distancing to keep cases low, along with widespread testing and tracking, allowing for more limited, targeted restrictio­ns on everyday life. But by the time the new COVID-19 wave hit Europe in October, it was too late. That explains the policy seesaw, the sudden move to much tighter restrictio­ns, even lockdowns, much like those earlier this year. The key question now – one that the incoming American president and his team will no doubt be asking, too – is about the future: how to avert yet another exercise in policy seesawing a few months from now. In Europe, the answer still hangs in the balance. With health systems under obvious pressure, most European citizens are complying with the new regulation­s. But, especially because of the economic hardship caused by the reimposed restrictio­ns, they also remain “tired of COVID-19.” Some European leaders are holding out the carrot of a normal family Christmas, or something like it. Others are voicing more caution, warning, for instance, that large-scale holiday gatherings won’t be possible. But none has yet dared to proclaim an explicit anti-seesaw message – that however difficult it sounds, Christmas and much else in people’s lives may have to be abnormal this year, to avoid another seesaw in the new year. For President-elect Biden, the current picture across the Atlantic provides a stark reminder of the challenge he’ll be up against. But if Europe does learn the policy perils of the seesaw, if its citizens do accept the need for a more measured reopening after this round of lockdowns, and it works, Mr. Biden will be able to point to an encouragin­g example. Yet the next president’s ultimate challenge may well be to tackle the very American politiciza­tion of the pandemic, which colors attitudes about everything from masking and distancing to treatments and vaccines. Putting Europe’s lessons to practical effect will be more than a matter of policy choices. Rather, it is likely to depend on how successful Mr. Biden is at achieving the dauntingly ambitious commitment at the heart of his presidenti­al campaign: to begin to dampen America’s partisan rancor and to heal its divisions. GLOBA L PAT T E R N S BY NED TEMKO Connecting key themes in the world’s news. r Director of Editorial Innovation Staff Writers and Special Correspond­ents Director of Photograph­y Clay Collins Laurent Belsie, Eva Botkin-Kowacki, Ryan Lenora Brown, Harry Bruinius, Christa Case Bryant, Lenora Chu, Whitney Eulich, Linda Feldmann, Peter Ford, Henry Gass, Peter Grier, Story Hinckley, Stephen Humphries, Patrik Jonsson, Francine Kiefer, Martin Kuz, Howard LaFranchi, Sara Miller Llana, Taylor Luck, Sarah Matusek, Jessica Mendoza, Simon Montlake, Eoin O’Carroll, Scott Peterson, Peter Rainer, Dominique Soguel, Ann Scott Tyson, Fred Weir Alfredo Sosa Audience Engagement Editor Staff Photograph­ers David C. Scott Melanie Stetson Freeman Ann Hermes Editor Mark Sappenfiel­d Cover Story Editor Operations Manager Scott Armstrong Managing Editor Lily Mui Deputy Weekly Edition Editor, Books Editor Amelia Newcomb Director, Graphics and Multimedia April Austin Jacob Turcotte Senior Editors Chief Editorial Writer Graphic Designer/Illustrato­r Arthur Bright, Kim Campbell, Judy Douglass, Clara Germani, Molly Jackson, Ken Kaplan, Liz Marlantes, Trudy Palmer, Mark Trumbull Clayton Jones Karen Norris Copy Desk Editor Content Editor, Daily Edition Digital Story Team Leader Casey Fedde Yvonne Zipp Staff Editors Samantha Laine Perfas Deputy Copy Desk Editor Husna Haq, Anna Tarnow, Angela Wang New Storytelli­ng/Engagement Editor Content Editor, Weekly Edition Erin McNeill Intern Editor Rebecca Asoulin Noelle Swan Managing Editor, Design Kendra Nordin Beato Multimedia Producer Julie Fallon Jingnan Peng 30 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | DECEMBER 7, 2020 PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTE­D BY PRESSREADE­R PressReade­r.com +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . 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