Next door the Czech Republic is one of the worst covid infested countries in the entire world. My home country Belgium is saying its otherwise premium healthcare system is about to collapse. And the country I have a passionate love-hatred relationship with, the United States, has just had a record 100,000 new cases in one single day.

So why has Slovakia jumped the gun so far?

Here are some of my personal observations. Take them or leave them.

  • Slovaks have in a way been in bubbles from way before covid hit. Slovaks tend to only mingle with close family members and they may go for the occasional drink with colleagues and former classmates, but they are unlikely to meet up with people just for the sake of meeting up. I wouldn’t be surprised if Slovaks have a lot less acquaintances outside of their family, work and school environment than, for example, Spanish people
  • Slovaks do not open their homes to people outside of their own family. In Belgium it’s very common to have dinner parties for friends, even people you have met only recently. Not so in Slovakia. You can have ok relationships with Slovaks for years and NEVER be invited inside their homes. It’s better that way because Slovaks make friendly, but very nervous and neurotic hosts. By the way: disturbing fact, the most popular porn in Slovakia is always about sex with a step sister or sister in law or step mother. Slovaks are so dependent on family circles for their social contact that it even shows in their porn viewing habits
  • Slovakia – outside of Bratislava – is sparsely populated. There is still a lot of space to hide. Slovaks like to do this.
  • As soon as there was the chance to work from home hordes of Slovaks left the cities and went into hiding in the villages
  • There are no long shopping streets or big markets in Slovakia where large crowds of people can gather apart from their annual and very popular Christmas markets, but the crisis hit Europe well after Christmas. No crowded public places in Slovakia. We have seen this happen in Belgium this weekend. Belgian politicians and healthcare workers were very disappointed that so many Belgians flocked to the long winding shopping streets in droves. Look at the picture. And this at a time when Belgian hospitals are overflowing.
  • Slovaks go to shopping malls and all the people entering can be easily stopped and have their temperature taken. I have never seen an extremely busy Slovak shopping mall. Even at the busiest times there is still quite a lot of distance between people unlike in London for example
  • Everybody switched to wearing masks immediately. Yes, some people wear them incorrectly, but the majority of people keeps a safe distance from others and wears masks correctly
  • Some shops have opted to allow nobody under 65 in before 11 am. I guess this helps to protect the elderly
  • The female president Caputova immediately took to wearing masks in public all the time. She must be one of the most photographed people in Slovakia so that did a lot to encourage people to wear masks
  • Slovaks are not the hugging kind in general. Men and women do tend to give two kisses on meeting, but this has always been an unpleasant, stiff, nervous custom around here, so this was quickly abandoned. In France and the south of Belgium and other ‘warm’ countries men also kiss upon meeting which I guess doesn’t help in stopping the spread of the virus. Slovakia is very formal and people have always kept their distance here. This is even reflected in the shape of the tables in bars over here. Big square tables. Rarely small round ones like in Belgium. Even in a bar you will be further away from people than in a bar in Belgium.
  • There are very active travellers in Slovakia, but you can still find a lot of people, even young people, who even in normal circumstances will never leave their country or their village and hate the only major city in this country, so they never go there either
  • Slovaks have a complete distrust of their own healthcare system so this gave them extra motivation to make sure they did not get it. They did not want to end up in one of the local hospitals which many consider to be hell-holes. This is partly true and partly a prejudice. If you have the chose I would recommend ending up in a Slovak hospital over ending up in an American or Russian hospital.
  • Slovaks warmly embraced the opportunity to switch to home officing as they tend to want to spend as much time as they can with their families. Many have moved back in with their parents for the time being. Adult Slovaks spend lots of weekends at their parents’s place anyway. If they have an apartment in Bratislava it’s so they can be close to work or are waiting to buy a house with a garden outside of Bratislava so they can use their beloved cars to get to work
  • Neighbours don’t talk and usually don’t get to know each other, not even in apartment blocks where you regularly bump into neighbours on the stairs or in the elevator
  • There are almost no obese people. Obesity is a risk factor if you contract covid
  • The most sociable young Slovaks tend to migrate to other countries thereby exacerbating the socially reclusive atmosphere here. As a tourist you can get entirely the wrong impression of what Slovakia is like since they are of course nice to tourists and as a tourist you will bump into the sociable minority. You will not work here or live here or go to school here and you will go to touristy places. This will give you an entirely different idea of what this country is like.

So to sum up: the Slovak authorities responded effectively from the very start AND Slovak society is ideal for the kind of corona measures that prove hard to install in other countries.