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The many shades of deconfinement

The many shades of deconfinement


archive Christine Neuhold

A tale of two sisters

In the following email exchange two sisters, who work in very different fields, reflect on how gradual deconfinement affects their work and lives. Christine Neuhold works on EU affairs at Maastricht University and lives in Brussels. Stephanie Neuhold is Head Doctor in charge of the ‘Covid 19 intensive care unit’ of a Viennese hospital.

From: Neuhold, Christine

Subject:  PhD defence from kitchen table

Good evening little sister, is all well in Austria? Today, the first PhD student of ‘my’ faculty defended her PhD thesis online. I was her supervisor and had to hold the laudatio. I think I was more nervous than she was. I was so afraid of my zoom crashing and I took quite some time to figure out where I would sit. In the end I placed my laptop on a towelrack, in front of a bookshelf. It turned out that the new Doctor defended from her kitchen table. No one noticed, on the contrary, she blew us all away.

I had waited for that day to come not only because of the defence but also because of the announcement of deconfinement measures in Belgium. To cut a long story short: not that much will change for us at least for the immediate future. Our daughters will not be part of the ‘first wave’ of children who can go back to school mid-May. Working from home is still the way to go. Restaurants and cinemas will also still be closed at least until June. Public transport will go back to normal soon but one will have to wear a facemask. We were given masks by the Commune. One can even wash them in the machine. But I walk and do not use public transport. Covid-19 seems to go hand in hand with unprecedented good weather. Mid-May many shops will open but I am also getting used to only buying food, let’s see how long that will last. How are you holding up?

All my love,


From: Neuhold, Stephanie

Subject: Preparing for the ‘Baumarkt’ wave

Guten Morgen!

In Austria the big thing is that ‘Baumärkte’ (hardware stores) opened again around two weeks ago. This leads to enormous queues. We medical doctors say that we have to prepare for the ‘hardware store wave’; that many shoppers got infected when scrambling for hammers and wrenches. Let’s hope that this is not the case. For the time being, luckily many hospitals in Vienna (still) have no Covid-19 patients. I saw the figures. In ‘my’ hospital we treat half of all Viennese Covid patients. I am convinced that one can do more to catch the virus earlier however. If you know that you are infected, you could measure your oxygen saturation level at home by using a so-called pulse oximeter. This is as easy to use as a fever thermometer, but much more important in this disease. People are not aware that their oxygen saturation might be slowly declining, because they do not have any difficulty breathing. We see people with oxygen saturations that are really low, but they are still texting on their phones; not gasping for breath as one might suspect. And by the time they experience shortness of breath, the disease might be already quite advanced, and it is more difficult to treat. I would advise you to get a pulse oximeter. Let’s hope you will never need it and then you just have one more gadget at home.


From:  Neuhold Christine

Subject: Thanks for the tip and somewhat like the EU

Good evening,

Thanks for the tip. I will try to get a pulse oximeter (what a mouthful). I will hide it from the girls though. Otherwise we will have frantic measuring going on until the thing is broken.

Your ‘Baumarkt story’ reminded me somewhat of the EU. Trying to prepare for the future. You for a (possible) new wave of Covid patients and the EU for the economic fallout linked to the pandemic. Last week the EU leaders managed to agree to short terms measures and the principles of a longer term recovery fund. They stuck to ‘good governance’ structures. They did not hammer this deal out behind closed doors among governments but involved the Commission. The latter seems to have gotten the ‘fuzzy end of the lollipop’ however. There are many questions linked to that fund - that will be linked to the EU’s long-term budget - that are still open. How large will it be, how exactly will it relate to the EU budget and how will it be financed? All this is left to the Commission to figure out. Member States can (still) not agree how to advance. France and Spain want grants to finance the recovery so that the debt does not skyrocket. Netherlands and Austria are pushing for loans. Speaking of France, I watched an interview with President Macron (with the Financial Times) the other day. He said that ‘we are at a moment of truth’. If Member States are not prepared to share the burden, then this could put the whole European project into jeopardy. I could not agree more.  

Sleep well!


From: Neuhold, Stephanie

Subject: Living the new normal


I took the metro today in Vienna and everyone is wearing facemasks. Schools will open here by mid-May as well. My son (8) will become a part-time pupil. This home-schooling will finally come to a (partial) end. It is just not realistic to try to achieve what they have not done all year in two months at home. Colleagues told me that their kids were shunned already before the lockdown because their parents work with Covid patients. I worry about that.

I now will leave you as I have to prepare for a large online lecture that I will give based on my experiences with the disease. I will use comics and jokes as reality is bleak enough.

Big hug,


From:  Neuhold Christine

Subject: Between fire horns and ice cream cones

Good afternoon,

You know that sometimes I have the feeling that I have a fire horn in my head. When I start complaining, the horn goes off to remind me how lucky we are. Today I saw two homeless people sitting on a blanket next to a sign ‘stay home, stay safe.’

The same happens when I try to plan ahead. The warning sound then goes off to signal: will that be possible, will we able to do this, what about the pandemic?  

On a more positive note: we bought ice cream today and staff was able to serve us on the spot. The day before the ice cream had to come vacuum packed from the lab. Now it tasted so much better. We ate our cones in the grass, at the feet of a statute dedicated to Charles Rogier. He founded the Belgian Railways. He would be surprised to see that people wear masks in the 21st century to take the train…

Alles Liebe,


Christine Neuhold, Professor EU Democratic Governance, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University

Stephanie Neuhold, Head Doctor in charge, Intensive Care Unit of Infectious and Tropical Diseases Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Hospital, Vienna





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