The USA has had over 10 million COVID-19 cases and 238,000 COVID-related deaths so far.
My home country of Ireland has had 65,000 cases and only 1,947 deaths. Now I know what you’re thinking – we can’t compare numbers like that when the two countries have such vastly different populations. That is fair, but even with population differences considered, more than twice as much of the American population has been infected when compared to Irish citizens.
The reason for this is primarily the severity of lockdown in Europe over the U.S. I’m not here to berate any one country’s handling of the COVID crisis, but it is thought-provoking to explore how different responses on both sides of the Atlantic have shaped life during a pandemic for millions of people. COVID cases are increasing across the world, but while Ireland is back in a Level 5 lockdown, the U.S. trudges on.
Who is doing it right? Where do we draw the line between saving lives and learning to live with the virus? Ireland has taken more of a ‘save lives at all cost’ approach.
While I’m on campus with all of you, all of my Irish friends have been online all semester (although elementary and high schools are open), shops are mostly closed and pubs and restaurants are take-out only. Travel is restricted, gyms are shut indefinitely and a 14-day quarantine is enforced for all those entering the country.
Predictably, far fewer people have died. The case is the opposite in the U.S. As long as you have a mask, you can do most of the things you typically would before. Restaurants are open, you can get on a plane or go to the gym, and although the experience is vastly different, you can still go downtown. In general, this approach is far better for the economy and probably better for people’s mental health.
As much of the world retreats back into lockdown, it can seem like the U.S. is doing something right. When time stands still in many places, life keeps moving in America. However, for all those who have lost a loved one, it probably doesn’t feel that way.
Although my sister and her husband contracted the virus, I’m lucky enough not to have lost anyone I know to COVID. COVID response is in many ways about culture.
How much are we willing to sacrifice for the health of others? Do we rank each life above the health of the economy, or is part of a capitalist system simply survival of the fittest? Is it the government’s role to force you to protect others, or should that be your own free choice? Ireland has chosen collective decision-making focused on health, even if detrimental to the economy or leisure activities of the people.
Collectivism hasn’t worked so well across the pond. For better or for worse, America is an individualistic nation. Its numbers reflect that.