Journalism in the time of COVID-19: What it’s like to cover the coronavirus from the heart of the EU

Laurie Tritschler / March 5, 2020

Brussels officials Barbara Trachte and Rudi Vorvoot announce the Capital Region’s plan to deal with the local social and economic impacts of the coronavirus. I understood none of it.
(Laurie Tritschler /

Well, shoot!

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, is already here in the EU’s capital. No one’s died of the bug so far, but in a town whose raison d’être is to function as the world’s biggest hub of international diplomacy, we can reasonably expect the bloc’s army of Eurocrats has brought the disease into the city walls.

I met one in a café the other day who told me he’d keep it to himself if he tested positive. He couldn’t go through with two-week quarantine that comes with disclosing one’s infection status and besides, he quipped, he has no life outside of the office and the gym, and never comes across old people, who are statistically most likely to succumb to COVID-19.

That’s, like, super irresponsible. Then again, some people, some of the time, are fundamentally concerned with how looming natural disasters might cramp their style.

“Two weeks’ self-isolation over a bad case of the sniffs?”

No dice, grandpa!

“Keep calm and infect all!” – Low-level European Commission staffer

would notify my handlers at work if I seriously thought I might be infected, because I’m not a complete sociopath, but I’ll be upset if the budget Irish airliner, Ryan Air, aka my go-to for Eurozone travel, cancels my flight to Rome next Friday.

Even as my colleagues are debating whether or not the coronavirus is now a pandemic (the World Health Organisation says, ‘no,’ but the German health minister says otherwise), les Brusselois are going about their lives as normal.

I was at a presser by one of the city’s 19 mayors (that’s the closest translation of the French bourgmestre) yesterday and, if my third-rate understanding of the French language is to be any guide, the city is mostly concerned to blunt the economic impact on Brussels’ tourism industry—and probably the local airline industry, too.

As for me, I hope to make it Rome next weekend. The country just shut down all schools from Sicily to the Tyrol, but screw it! If I’m really lucky, and I actually land a job at a Canadian newsroom when I get back, I’ll never be able to afford another European excursion for the rest of my life.

¡Ciao! ¡Ciao!

Stay tuned for more, y’all!

‘Don’t forget your Shredder mask!’

A health-conscious traveller at Brussels’ Charlesroi Airport takes the clinically dubious precaution of wearing a surgical mask before her flight. The WHO recommends that infected people observe the precaution.
(Laurie Tritschler / (Ota / Flickr)