Tuesday 19 May 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 19/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Markus Hippi

Pride of place

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt recently urged the country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, to keep a lower profile and to refrain from critiquing (read: criticising) the way in which other countries have been dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. Bildt worried that with Sweden taking such a drastically different approach to most – keeping restaurants and schools open while gently nudging its public to follow distancing guidelines rather than imposing full-on lockdown measures – there was a real risk of the nation coming across as arrogant on the world stage.

My home country of Finland has been equally self-assured – albeit more aggressive – in its strategy of applying a lockdown similar to most European nations. Like the Swedes, Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin has relied on scientific advice and expert opinion, leaving political and ideological debates to one side. Despite their very different approaches, both Sweden and Finland are convinced that they are on the right path – shaking their heads as they watched the epidemic escalate in places such as Italy, the UK, the US and Russia.

Whether it’s their remote locations, well-functioning societies or the amount of praise that they receive internationally, Nordic nations often view themselves in a different light, with a tendency to feel that they know better than others. Of course, most of the time we are right. But with that mindset comes the risk of closing our eyes to our own errors and forgetting that, when it comes to an epidemic such as this one, we are all in the same boat. No wonder, then, that Bildt was hoping Sweden would take a more constructive role in Europe’s fight against the virus. After all, what we need now is a common, global effort – not self-absorbed navel gazing.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Brazil

Marshalling the troops

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet already had its fair share of military men. Now it has one more: General Eduardo Pazuello has been appointed interim health minister, making him the ninth member with a military background in a cabinet of 22. Bolsonaro himself is a retired officer and was famously a supporter of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985 – and he might also like the fact that officers are more likely to follow orders. General Pazuello’s appointment comes after Nelson Teich became the second health minister to leave the role in less than a month when he resigned last week. For some, the high proportion of government ministers with a military background is frightening and anti-democratic, especially for those who remember the horrors of the dictatorship. Bolsonaro seems to be doubling down on his (dwindling) base and, in the process, putting loyalty before the country’s needs.

Image: Ian Patterson

Economy / Canada

Drawing the line

While much of the focus is on European countries easing lockdown measures this week, the first phase of Ontario’s economic recovery also begins today: shops will reopen (excluding shopping malls), albeit with strict distancing rules and caps on the number of people allowed in at any one time. Construction projects will also resume, while golf courses, camping grounds and private parks opened over the weekend. Canada’s decision to reopen gradually has mostly hinged on clear evidence of a sustained decrease in new coronavirus cases, unlike the US where, despite many new cases, 42 states have already at least partially relaxed restrictions. So while retailers in Toronto might be opening their doors, don’t expect the Canada-US border to open to non-essential travel anytime soon. The two countries are reportedly set to extend the border shutdown until late June, with Canada’s chief public health officer saying last week that ongoing outbreaks in the US remain a threat to Canadians.

Image: Shutterstock

Nature / Japan

Off peak

Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest peak, will be unusually quiet this summer. For the first time in at least 60 years, all four routes to the volcano’s summit will be closed for the official climbing season, which runs from 10 July to 10 September. The 3,776m peak, which was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2013, attracted 236,000 climbers and millions of day-trippers last year. This year the two regional governments that manage the routes have opted not to open them due to the pandemic – and many environmentalists will be delighted: the volcano has been blighted by litter and a huge increase in tourism to Japan has only added to the pressure. The Mount Fuji Club reported in 2019 that in the previous 20 years, its 75,000 volunteers had cleared 770 tonnes of rubbish from the mountain and its foothills. Fuji-san surely deserves a year off.

F&B / Italy

Chef de mission

As Italy reopens bars and restaurants this week, there’s a crucial culinary rethink taking place. “It’s going to be tough to restart but I’m hopeful,” says chef Massimo Bottura (pictured) in an interview in the June issue of Monocle, which is out on Thursday. “Our behaviour will have to change but masks, handwashing and physical distancing are really just simple things that we’ll get used to easily,” he says. So far so good. But how might the time-tested delight of sharing a table in a low-lit trattoria translate to the new normal? “We won’t have the guests that we had before without international travel; Italians will rediscover Italy first,” says Bottura, who thinks that restaurants will need a helping hand. “A group of Italian chefs including myself sent a letter to our prime minister: the country needs to help restaurants with sky-high labour taxes, with cash flow and reopening. Restaurants are a major pillar of Italian culture.” Here’s hoping they can change course.

Image: Daniel Bach

M24 / The Urbanist

Coronavirus and mobility

The pandemic has reshaped the way that we move around our cities. Public transport usage is at an all-time low, cycling is on the rise and pedestrians have been reclaiming the streets and pavements. Could this be an opportunity for actual change in the places we live?

Monocle Films / Global

Seamless moves

When it comes to moving people effortlessly through and between cities, who is getting it right? And how do we make cities where mobility works for young and old alike?


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