Gonçalo Lobo Xavier: I'll never again miss an opportunity to give someone a hug

The unimaginable has happened. Suddenly everything has changed and nothing seems to be the way it was. We are living in exceptional circumstances and we have to be resilient so that we can respond appropriately and come back strongly.

I don't know what I miss most. Selfishly, we feel like we're missing everything: freedom, goods, services, mobility, friendship, affection, hugs – the list is endless. We had everything and didn't know it. We have to learn from this challenge.

In just over four decades of life, I have never experienced anything like this before.

This really is a different kind of "war". As a Portuguese poet said, "this is a war where hugs are the weapons", referring to the fact that we cannot touch each other without risking contamination. It is a sad irony when a display of affection can literally kill us.

In 1755, there was a great earthquake in Lisbon that almost completely destroyed the city. Marquis de Pombal, a minister in the kingdom at the time, made a famous comment: "we must bury the dead and care for the living". This statement may be too cold by today's standards, but it makes us feel that we must carry on with our lives and face this challenge – to which we feel we have contributed nothing – with courage, even if we are in despair.

But I now want to talk about a response. After two months of suffering and lockdown, after weeks of uncertainty and pain, it is now time to take care of the living and try to rebuild society, the economy, Europe and the world.

And on that basis, let's learn the right lessons and start again.

Many will think as I do: I will never again miss an opportunity to give someone a hug or tell them how much I miss them. I will never try to disappoint anyone again. These are all good intentions.

On a more practical note, no one was or could be prepared for something like this. How can we fix this? How can we rebuild society and the economy that sustains it?

We all need to answer these questions quickly, on the basis of the European principles of solidarity.

In fact, if we think about what we have been deprived of, we think about the European single market. In my opinion, the comparison makes sense: suddenly we have been left without a network, without a life. We have been deprived of freedom and the free movement of goods, services and people, and we have all been confined to the area we live in. Nobody has enjoyed it.

This is also why I'm a staunch Europhile. The single market brings us freedom, growth, free movement and solidarity. Let's not allow the pandemic to deprive us of a better future. Let's advocate a free, solidarity-based Europe. Together, let's move towards a better future, where we hug those we love most and care for others.