Germany’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has left us disenchanted with German politics. Mishaps and scandals mark one year since the start of the pandemic, from missing masks and tests to a very slow vaccination start. But, since all political parties are involved in the decision-making process, none are likely to learn their lesson and face the consequences of their actions in September's federal elections.

Stereotypes usually have negative connotations, but there can also be positive stereotypes. With regard to Germany, among those positive stereotypes is that Germans are hard-working, punctual, and able to organize. The first two are normative, but the third is more of a myth than a reality, which has been impressively demonstrated by the COVID-19 crisis.
 
The crisis seemed to begin well from an organizational perspective, with relatively few infected and dead in March and April of last year, which lead to the false assumption that Germany, especially German politics, had a plan of action for dealing with the virus.
 
However, one year ago it was luck that allowed Germany to get off lightly. One reason for this was the situation in Bergamo, which led to an early first lockdown and left the population with the impression that COVID-19 was by no means just a “small flu” (Bolsonaro).
 
Nevertheless, the organizational deficiencies were evident from the very beginning. In the spring of 2020, too few masks were purchased at far too high costs. Last week, two conservative politicians resigned from their posts in the wake of a scandal involving the purchase of highly overpriced masks.
 
During the summer the general figures were positive, which Germany was praised, even from abroad. The Guardian wrote in late June a story titled, “On different planets: how Germany tackled the pandemic, and Britain flailed”. In late August, a book was published in the UK titled, “Why the Germans Do it Better: Notes from a Grown-Up Country”. At that time, no irony was intended.
 
Looking at the situation now, in March of 2021, it still looks like a “two different planets” situation, but the roles have been reversed. The quiet summer months were not used to prepare for the fall/winter. Neither were the elderly protected in care homes, because rapid tests were not available nationwide. Nor were the schools prepared for in-person instruction, which could have been achieved via the use of air filters and testing for both teachers and students, nor was functioning digital teaching organized.
 
The biggest political failure, however, has been the vaccination process. Not only is the vaccination rate much less vaccine than that of the UK, U.S., or Israel, but the few that are available are not being used; of the 3.2 million AstraZeneca vaccines, only 800,000 were used before Friday. Overall, less than 6 percent of the population has been vaccinated by March 5. In the UK, this figure is over 31 percent, in Israel over 55 percent and in the USA almost 17 percent. The false skepticism towards the AstraZeneca vaccine is a clear communication problem, because the population assumes that the vaccine is only 70 percent effective, which is not the case.
 
Testing is going similarly poorly. While other countries have been offering free PCR tests and self-tests for weeks, these are largely absent in Germany. The first discounter began selling self-tests only on March 5.
 
This organizational chaos is compounded by disoriented political leadership. When Chancellor Merkel met with the governors of the 16 Länder (states) a month ago, the incidence risk figure of 35 cases per 100,000 inhabitants was considered the guideline for openings; Only when the 7-day incidence risk rate was at or below 35 cases for "a few days" should openings be allowed to occur.
 
However, under pressure from the economy, the opposition, and the impatience of the population and two upcoming regional elections on March 14, the outcome of this looked quite different last week. Suddenly, the 35 figure became 50, but openings started being made between 50 and 100. During the weekend, the number was 66, and trending upward.
 
This lacks any logic and will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of those infected via schools and kindergartens opening again, in addition to stores, museums, sports facilities, cafes, restaurants, and hotels. Decision makers have said that any incidence figure above 100 will result in shutdowns again, but it seems doubtful that the political leadership would brave a third lockdown against the pressure from the economy and the population, both exhausted after one year of pandemic.
 
The COVID-19 crisis has disenchanted German politics. Merkel is reaching her limits with her wait-and-see attitude, and as a ‘lame duck’ she can no longer assert herself against the ministers who want to open. Health Minister Spahn in one year has gone from star of the government and chancellor candidate to having his resignation loudly and widely demanded. He is not only seen as being responsible for the delay in mask distribution, the slow vaccination launch, and the lack of testing, but also for his participation in a dinner with entrepreneurs just one day before his own contraction of the coronavirus was announced. He has thus gone against his own recommendations to the population not to travel and not to participate in social gatherings.
 
The Germans are no longer seen as world class in the face of such a crisis. The German Corona app may be very good at data protection, but it is useless at pandemic control.
 
So, if this summer Brits travel to Mallorca, Costa del Sol, or the Turkish Riviera, they won't have to worry about fighting with German tourists over beach chairs. For most Germans, the travel benefits are unlikely to kick in until the fall, when, despite all the delays, most adults will have been vaccinated after all. Perhaps still in time for the federal elections in late September.
 
These political decisions are made in cooperation with the federal government (SPD, CDU/CSU) and the governors of the Länder, where the Greens and the (false) liberals (FDP) are part of 11 respectively 3 governments and the leftist Linke has the governor of Thuringa. Since all but the extreme right-wing AfD are somehow involved, none of the democratic parties can be taught a lesson in the elections either.

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