John Shade writes from Finland on how ‘the world’s happiest country’ is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Spring is usually the time for Finns to come out of hibernation. This Spring we emerged, only to be ordered back into isolation. Measures here have followed a common pattern seen around the world: remote work, closed schools, inessential services and businesses shut down.
Finland is one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth, with only 5.5 million people occupying roughly 300,000 square kilometres of predominantly trees and lakes. Finns love distance. If you think you are respecting someone’s personal space, take a step back and exaggerate the recommended proxemics.
Text messages from the police outline restrictions on movement between the southern region and the rest of Finland. Many Finns are prohibited from travelling to their cottages and cabins, the summer residences that epitomise Finnish life. Paradoxically, these are habitats of privacy and isolation, but we want to contain the pathogen.
There are calls to shut down the state-owned alcohol stores. We are warned of a potential rise in domestic violence. We are told to practice ’physical’ distancing, but to connect with others over phone and video, find novel ways of being social.
Finland is accustomed to being a peripheral nation, but the virus and the accompanying memes are global, the curve on everyone’s lips. The young government ministers who address us are a picture of health.
Our august President says that economies can recover; it is lives we must focus on. The public discourse is civil and respectful, displaying Finno-Scandinavian level-headedness.
But many are scared, the paranoia and disgust that we are wired to display in times of mass infection, are visible in the supermarkets. We cannot read the faces of masked citizens, only the eyes.