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Thursday, February 3, 2022 Leer en Español

European Nations Are Dismantling the COVID State Before Our Eyes. Will the US Follow?

Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom are among the European nations who’ve recently scrapped all or key provisions of the COVID state.

Image: Mette Frederiksen

Denmark took the lead in Europe this week, scrapping virtually all pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country of 5 million announced it no longer considers COVID-19 “a socially critical disease.”

Denmark’s move came the same week that health ministers in the United Kingdom announced plans to terminate an order forcing all NHS staff to get vaccinated against COVID, a move The Guardian said is designed to “prevent an exodus of thousands of frontline health workers.” The move came days after the UK scrapped its school mask mandate.

Not to be outdone, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin recently told reporters the country would be retiring COVID passports and, according to Reuters, aims “to remove all restrictions at the start of next month.”

Meanwhile, public health officials in Norway also said the country would be lifting nearly all of its COVID restrictions, including COVID tests at the border. Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told reporters that even though COVID infections remain high, hospitalizations have stabilized and most citizens have some protection from the virus because of previous infections and vaccination.

“Even if many more people are becoming infected, there are fewer who are hospitalised,” Stoere explained. “We’re well protected by vaccines. This means that we can relax many measures even as infections are rising rapidly.”

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, recently scrapped its vaccine mandate, while several provinces in Spain also ditched virtually all COVID restrictions after a study conducted by the Public Health Observatory of Cantabria found vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals transmit the virus at similar rates.

Not All Countries Are Going Quietly

Not all European nations have scrapped their COVID policies, however. In fact, some appear intent to move in the opposite direction.

Austria, for example, is becoming the first European country to make COVID vaccination compulsory for all adults. Greece, meanwhile, has announced it will fine adults over 60 who do not comply with vaccination; and Germany’s incoming chancellor, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, has indicated he will support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

In Belgium, authorities have only grudgingly begun to rollback COVID restrictions, despite protests in Brussels of some 50,000 who gathered to oppose the state’s mandates.

“I’m angry about the blackmail that the government is doing,” protester Caroline van Landuyt told Reuters.

The rally in Brussels ended with police using tear gas and a water cannon to disperse those who’d assembled in protest, culminating in 60 people being arrested and 12 protesters being taken to hospital (as well as three police officers).

Why are many European nations dismantling their COVID restrictions while others are ramping up new mandates? While many are loath to admit it, it’s becoming increasingly clear that state attempts to control the virus have failed miserably.

A new Johns Hopkins metaanalysis, for instance, found that the lockdowns many countries embraced were a massive failure, resulting in “little to no effect” on COVID mortality, even though they came with immense collateral damage. A United Nations report published last year noted that COVID disruptions resulted in some 239,000 “maternal and child deaths” in South Asia alone, while the US saw a record number of drug overdoses, a surge in youth suicide, and an unprecedented drop in cancer screenings that will be felt for years to come.

While the vaccines have helped reduce COVID deaths and hospitalizations, they have done little to slow the spread of COVID, in large part because of the nature of Omicron, which is highly transmissible.

A committee of scientists who advised the regional government of Catalonia pointed out that Omicron, which has a high rate of transmission even before carriers experience an onset of symptoms, has rendered vaccine passports largely ineffective at reducing transmission because vaccinated individuals spread the virus at similar rates to unvaccinated ones.

“The effectiveness of the compulsory use of the Covid certificate is reduced as an extra level of security,” the scientists noted.

In other words, vaccines can protect individuals because they can reduce the likelihood of hospitalization or death from COVID, but they do little to slow or stop transmission. This makes vaccines primarily a matter of personal health, not public health.

The Danger of Hubris

It takes incredible arrogance for lawmakers and bureaucrats to assume they know what is best for individuals. But that quality—arrogance—is precisely what we’ve seen since the very beginning of this pandemic.

“To think one can [suppress] a very contagious respiratory virus is stupid and arrogant,” Harvard epidemologist Martin Kulldorff recently noted on Twitter. “We need leaders that are smart and humble.”

The last word there—humble—is important.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize entitled The Pretense of Knowledge, the economist F.A. Hayek warned that a lack of humility could lead modern man “to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order.” With the power of the state at his fingertips, combined with his command of the sciences, Hayek feared modern man would fail to realize that there are limits to his knowledge and to his ability to shape society effectively.

“There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, ‘dizzy with success’, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will,” Hayek noted.

Hayek concluded his remarks with a warning. The student of society should learn “a lesson of humility” by recognizing “the insuperable limits to his knowledge.” If he failed this test of humility, the fatal striving to control society stood to make man “a tyrant over his fellows…[and] the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.”

Hayek’s fear, one presumes, was of socialism. The COVID state, however, was born of the same hubris—the belief that central planners could use the power of the state to suppress and vanquish a highly contagious respiratory virus, something never tried before in human history.

Regrettably, yet predictably, the COVID state failed, and its mad experiment caused grave damage to society and science. Many European countries are finally accepting this reality, at least tacitly. But as for the Biden administration, it’s still unclear whether they understand the crux of the problem.

On Wednesday, the US Army announced soldiers who refuse vaccination for COVID-19 will be discharged—regardless of whether they’ve already had COVID (which the CDC admits offers powerful protection from the virus).

Many US Army soldiers will be left with a bitter choice, just like Katharina Teufel-Lieli, an Austrian musician who is one of tens of thousands in that country who have joined demonstrations to resist making the COVID vaccine compulsory.

Austrians face fines up to $4,100 if they don’t comply with the government’s order, but Teufel-Lieli says she’ll not bow to the pressure.

“I have the right to decide over my body… to simply say ‘no,'” the harpist recently told Agence France-Presse at her home near Salzburg.

Fortunately, more and more people in Europe and beyond are beginning to agree with her.

  • Jonathan Miltimore is the Senior Creative Strategist of at the Foundation for Economic Education.