Protected by being less kissy
Why is coronavirus ravaging our neighbors Spain and Italy but causing less devastation here in France? asked Lucas Serdic. It’s true that our outbreak is several days behind that of Italy, which has suffered more than 11,600 Covid-19 deaths. But if you chart the total number of confirmed infections in both Italy and France, our caseload appears to be rising at a noticeably slower rate. As for Spain, our two outbreaks began around the same time, but by late March, Spain had some 65,000 cases and 5,000 deaths to France’s 33,000 cases and 2,000 deaths. What explains this disparity? It’s not that our health systems are very different—all three countries have universal health care—or that France was quicker to adopt containment measures such as curfews. Instead, epidemiologists say, Spain and Italy are worse off because of their culture of physical closeness. They “touch each other more frequently,” hugging and kissing to say hello and clustering closely around the table at every meal. Many French people do air-kiss upon greeting, but there isn’t the full-on contact hug you see in countries farther south. That’s why, scientists say, the 2003 SARS epidemic largely spared Nordic nations. We may all have to become less friendly and “more like the Swedes” from now on.