People ice-skate and play hockey on the frozen lake Spitzingsee as stricter lockdown measures are in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) near the resort town of Schliersee, Germany, Jan 6, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

When I traveled to the Swiss town of Davos in late January for the annual World Economic Forum, I had no idea that this would be my only trip outside of Belgium in 2020.

I have been covering the World Health Organization coronavirus News conferences online since early February, when Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged the world to seize the “window of opportunity” created by China to improve preparedness.

The virus spread rapidly in Italy and Spain in March, and then across Europe.

It took a long time for Europeans to accept that wearing a mask can greatly help prevent the spread of the virus, a hard lesson that East Asians learned during SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003.

The monthslong first lockdown introduced in many European states in April effectively suppressed the virus. It was a warm moment the day when people in my apartment compound clapped every night at 8 pm to show solidarity.

I didn’t go far even as Europeans flocked to the south for their summer holidays after travel restrictions were lifted.

The travel frenzy has contributed to a devastating second wave of infections and deaths that still persist today in some countries.

The emotional plea by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in December for tighter measures ahead of Christmas was an unforgettable moment.

The European response has been less stringent from contact tracing to isolation and quarantine, which are all critical to containing COVID-19.

Debates about “freedom”, “civil liberty” and “privacy” in this context aren’t very helpful. If the virus is allowed to spread with halfhearted measures, more people will get infected and die.

It is as simple and bloody as that.

I am relatively new to Europe, having arrived in Brussels two years ago. The first year took me to a dozen countries to cover News, but more excitingly, to learn their rich culture and history.

COVID-19 has ravaged the European Union despite its mostly rich member states and good public health systems.

I hope Europe, indeed the whole world, will recover very soon from the pandemic. And I am looking forward to exploring many more amazing places in Europe.