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In the spring, Germany was praised as a pandemic role model for its Covid-19 crisis management: its low fatality and high testing rates and efficient hammering of the curve were the envy of much of the rest of the world.
But this winter the virus is exposing the weaknesses as well as strengths of Germany’s consensus-based federal system, as its “compromise lockdown” struggles to subdue the second wave.
While the German infection rate remains below the EU average, the numbers have taken a “worrying” turn for the worse, as Lothar Wieler, the head of the country’s disease control agency, warned on Thursday.
Germany is the only major country in Europe where the daily number of deaths is now rising rather than falling. On Thursday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported that another 440 people had died of or with Covid-19, the seventh day in a row with more than 400 fatalities.
Countries that recorded a spike in daily fatalities in April, including Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, and the UK, have peaked at lower rates this November. Hospitals in countries that were seemingly spared by the pandemic’s first wave – Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland – are now finding themselves struggling with record numbers.
Germany hasn’t managed to buck the trend: of the 10 largest economies in the world, it is the only one recording significantly higher daily numbers of deaths than in the spring.
On 2 November the country entered a “soft lockdown” that tried to heed the concerns of industry, with rules tightened on gatherings and bars and restaurants closed, but shops and schools remaining open.
But social distancing guidance has been difficult to enforce, especially in areas that did not see the worst of the pandemic during the first wave. States in the formerly socialist east, such as Brandenburg, Thuringia and Saxony, are now Germany’s coronavirus hotspots.
Epidemiologists have said a “prevention paradox”, whereby Germany’s ability to manage the spread of the illness dampened the fear surrounding it to the extent that the narrative quickly took hold that it was less dangerous and contagious than health experts stated, has helped its subsequent spread.
The number of outbreaks in German care homes is twice as high as in the spring, the Robert Koch Institute said on Thursday.
Wieler said that while countries such as Belgium or Ireland had managed to reduce social contacts by around 60% this winter, contacts in Germany had been reduced by around 40%.
As a result, even the sale of takeaway mulled wine and waffles from pop-up stalls during the Christmas season has become a politically divisive issue, as Angela Merkel’s government finds itself grasping for virus-curbing measures that fall short of a nationwide hard lockdown.
An uncharacteristically emotional appeal in the Bundestag on Wednesday spoke of the chancellor’s real concerns while also venting frustration with a political system that delegates decision-making in key areas such as health and education to the 16 federal states.
“It may be the case that sending children home is the wrong thing to do,” Angela Merkel conceded. “If so then it will have to be digital lessons or something else. I don’t know, this is not my area of expertise and I don’t want to interfere.”
With the rolling seven-day average flatlining at around 200 cases per million people since 4 November, some leading German scientists have called for a hard lockdown lasting from 24 December until 10 January. While the plan has the support of Merkel and some state leaders, few politicians have dared to speak up for a tightening of restrictions in the run-up to Christmas.
“In the autumn, the voices of German industry made themselves heard and we ended up with the compromise of a partial lockdown in November as a result,” said Stefan Kluge, the director of intensive care medicine at Hamburg’s University Medical Centre. “We now know that hasn’t worked and that a hard lockdown in the coming weeks is unavoidable.”
Kluge said he had faith in the stability of the German healthcare system. “We have acquired an incredible number of ventilators, and I don’t see us running out of intensive care beds this winter.” The German case fatalities rate for Covid-19 remains among the lowest on the continent at 1.6%, compared with 3.6% in the UK.
But Kluge said Germany’s relative shortage of staff to attend intensive care beds worried him. “The shortage of care workers, and the psychological toll on those working around the clock, is becoming a great cause for concern.”
Hospitals in hard-hit Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia have required some essential clinical staff to continue working even after testing positive for the virus. The university hospital in Bamberg, Bavaria, announced on Thursday that it would have to stop taking in any further patients for non-urgent stationary treatments.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Compromise lockdown struggles to subdue Germany’s Covid second wave | Germany