Kinga Joó: "Families have the ability to strengthen society's immune system"

On 10 March the EU-Serbia Joint Consultative Committee meeting in Brussels took place in a strange, heavy atmosphere. After the meeting everyone was in a hurry to get back on the road. I returned home knowing that major changes were about to hit Europe and with the feeling that this would be my last flight for a long time. In Hungary, during this period people's main reactions were uncertainty and disbelief. For many Hungarians the severity of the situation became clear when the government announced that the celebrations planned for 15 March, our national day, would be cancelled.

Like many other European countries Hungary closed its borders and introduced a number of restrictive measures. Education moved to on-line classes, those who could work at home did so and silence reigned in the streets and in usually crowded areas. Although a state of emergency was swiftly declared, the country did not lock down completely. Public areas were not totally empty and there was no strict ban on people going out of their homes. Thus, where I live, our favourite ice cream parlour at the end of the road stayed open all the time, to my children's great joy.

And how vital these sources of consolation were to our little heroes during this period of lockdown! At their level and to the extent of their ability, the children helped to protect our family well. Confined to barracks, they endeavoured to play quietly, gave up their birthday parties and sat in front of screens for hours on end (whereas previously we had been constantly telling them to limit their screen time). As well as children, the elderly were also widely condemned to isolation. In several places local authorities and civil society organisations did a good job of providing assistance to people isolating at home. However, in many cases this task fell to family members.

For my part, the lesson which I have learned from the past few weeks is how much more important the role of the family and family ties become in this kind of crisis. It is now clear that families have the ability to strengthen society's immune system, but we have also realised how vulnerable they are and how much they need to be helped. In this respect, civil society organisations have a key role to play. In our association, it has also been interesting to note how, in addition to practical forms of help (such as gifts, logistical support and assistance with education), assistance was also needed in the area of mental health.