How Germany turned national obedience into a victory over corona

Mati Shemoelof: Well, there was also Merkel’s calm, decisive leadership, a massive testing program and the chance to learn from other countries’ mistakes

I AM STANDING in a line outside my local supermarket. Everybody is wearing a mask, even the homeless people nearby. We are keeping the social distance of 1.5 meters. A supermarket worker cleans the trolleys before passing them over. There is a limit on how many customers can be in the supermarket at one time and we wait patiently until we are allowed in.

There is strict discipline, everything must be done according to the rules. As a Jew living in Berlin, German obedience usually worries me. We all remember that German officers who murdered millions of people claimed they were only following orders. yet this is how, 75 years later, Germany is surviving the pandemic.

The data is impressive. Germany’s rate of coronavirus infection is comparable to France and the UK, but its death rate is 75 to 80 per cent lower. A friend who works in a local hospital says the situation is under control and that there is no great pressure at her workplace. In contrast, I talk every day to my sister who works in a big Israeli hospital and she says the pressure is much greater.

It is not only a medical issue but also a social one. Here, we can be outside as often as we want. The lockdown in Israel has been much harder, with people stopped from travelling more than 100 metres from their homes, etc. My best friends have lost their jobs and their future.

In Berlin, we immediately received a grant to keep our heads above water. It helps in these times to have a left-wing government. The local government is a coalition of red, red and green so it has been easier to get support in Berlin than in other federal states.

Germany did have the advantage of observing the dreadful developments in Italy and, unlike the US and UK, acted swiftly. By April 4, the total number of tests in Germany was more than 1.3 million, at an average of 116,000 a day. The UK is hoping to reach 100,000 tests a day by the end of May. By April 10, its total stood at 316,836 tests.

I often visit the local cemetery which contains an area reserved for soldiers of the Wehrmacht. And here, I am again reminded of German obedience, control and order. I’ve realised that today this discipline is used to save lives.

I often visit the local cemetery which contains an area reserved for soldiers of the Wehrmacht. And here, I am again reminded of German obedience, control and order. I’ve realised that today this discipline is used to save lives.

What about surveillance? In Israel, the  government monitors citizens through the Shin Bet, even (before the unity government was confirmed) without the Knesset’s approval, while German authorities debated the use of a surveillance app before implementing it, but the data was anonymous.

Germany has a well-financed health system in relation to other European countries, according to the OECD, in relation to the number of doctors, intensive care beds and quality of care. It also has decentralised health authorities and each state has the resources to locate, isolate and care for patients and COVID-19 patients.

Some critics claim Germany enjoys this level of care because at the expense of some of the poorer European countries. To revive the ailing economies of Greece, Spain and Italy, a few years ago Germany led the move to force them to drastically reduce their health systems.

Yet who is calling the loudest for the end of the lockdown? Among those voices is Wolfgang Schäuble, the former finance minister whose policies brought the Greek and other health systems  to their knees.

The authorities, who have already opened small shops, have announced that playgrounds, museums and churches will reopen.

And they might also open schools, kindergartens or sport events much sooner than first planned, due to  pressure from business groups, despite  a recent survey by YouGov that showed more than half the country is  concerned the reopening of the economy might happen too  fast.  Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned there is a risk of triggering a resurgence of the coronavirus if people stop social distancing.

“We must work to make sure we bring the number of new infections down further,” Merkel said. “If the infection curve becomes steep again, we need to have a warning system to notice it early and be able to act.”

I appreciate Merkel’s cool-headed leadership, her clear and calm communication strategy that uses scientific facts and calls for unity in fighting the pandemic. Some say, the countries led by women have shown the best results: New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark. But I think the fact that Germany had time to see where other countries went wrong, together with the efficiency of its health system, (have played the larger role in the success of its response.

 

The article was first published on plus61J

פורסם על ידי Mati Shemoelof

Mati Shemoelof was born in 1972 in Haifa. He is a poet, editor, and writer. He graduated with honors from the University of Haifa where he studies Film and History. He has published seven poetry books so far. The last of these was published in Germany in 2019 in a bilingual edition "Baghdad | Haifa | Berlin", published by Aphorismha Verlag [Berlin]. His first article book “An eruption from the east: Re visiting the emergence of the Mizrahi artistic explosion and it's imprint on the Israeli cultural narrative 2006-2019“ was published on “Iton 77” publishers in Israel (2020).

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