Striking similarities and differences in tackling the pandemic

Photo by Yonas Bekele

It has been over a year of working from home, wearing masks and waiting for this pandemic to end and we are all tired and frustrated. I have experienced this pandemic from two countries' perspectives, Hungary and Finland. Even if it will take years until we can look back and analyze what happened, what went wrong and what right and how the pandemic has been, and should have been, dealt with, I will still present my opinion from my experience on what it has been like seeing this pandemic handled from these two countries. I can only offer my personal view on this matter and speak from my experience and what I have observed as just one small individual in this world that is very big but also very small. 

When the pandemic started, I stayed in Hungary. Some of my peers left for Finland and many foreigners left for their home countries. At the start it seemed most countries, with the exception of Sweden, were going to handle this pandemic quite similarly. Stop the spreading of the virus with travel bans, quarantines and restrictions. In Hungary, as in many other countries, everything happened quickly: shops were closed, same with movie theatres, gyms, hairdressers and what not. Also mask wearing became quickly a must on public transport. The rules have changed a lot and by now I can’t remember what happened when, but all I remember is that it was all swift and somewhat decisive and clear. At the start, Finland was also being decisive, but then as this year unfolded, exceptions have been made and to be honest it doesn’t seem like everyday life changed drastically in my home country as it did everywhere else.

I have visited Finland twice this year, which makes me highly privileged as my other foreign friends have, in worst cases, lived years without seeing their families - not due to COVID but due to visa restrictions. When I first visited Finland in the summer, the difference was surprising. In Finland, masks were not worn during the summer, in fact I received some snarky looks and laughter while wearing mine on a busy bus. Also the quarantine when traveling to Finland was recommended and by your own choice, a wording I wasn’t really impressed with, whereas in Hungary, while I was in my 10-day quarantine after re-entering the country, I was visited by a police officer and an army representative with a gun three times during the 10 days. Also the red sticker I received to put on the front door to inform all our neighbours I was in quarantine had such strong glue that I still can see the remnants of the red scarlet sticker three months later. 

I am painting a picture of Finland being a lot more loose with the restrictions, and it is true the rules in Hungary have been a lot more strict and restrictive. But also the cases and deaths in Finland have been a lot less compared to Hungary, and the reasons for this are surely manyfold and something I’ll leave for the future experts to figure out. In my opinion, both countries could learn things from each other. Finland could learn decisiveness and Hungary could learn openness. An honest picture of what the situation actually is, is something people deserve to know. And clarity in decisions made is something the people in Finland desire. 

Now I guess we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccines roll out speedily in Hungary. And after a slow start, Finland has started doing very well in vaccinating its approximately 5.5 million citizens just a bit behind Hungary. The differences in experiencing this pandemic in two countries has been somewhat eye opening but mostly just confusing. I have been, and will remain, confused many years after this as I still try to process what has happened during the past year, and what can be learned from this and all the insecurity of the future that has come with this pandemic. How could so much of society suddenly just stop? That still baffles me as someone who has always lived in a stable society without wars or catastrophes. How quickly all we knew and took for granted was just gone. 

I guess the lesson learned is something like in the lines of carpe diem. But that’s not good because we are still in the worst situation during this whole pandemic. I think all has been said that is now needed to be said about this pandemic and I will do the thing Finnish people enjoy doing the most and just be quiet for a while. 


Rebecka Vilhonen