Berlin's Priorities

The German Government prioritizes the economy over measures of containment of the COVID-19 virus.

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - In the corona crisis, the German government has initiated measures aiding the German economy, but refuses urgently recommended measures by the WHO for protecting the population. Berlin is doing "everything" to prevent the coronavirus COVID-19 from "affecting the economy throughout Germany," German Minster of the Economy, Peter Altmaier, was quoted saying early this month. The measures are reinforcing positions of German businesses vis à vis their global rivals. The following steps will be discussed tomorrow, Friday. At the same time, the government is opposing the closure of schools and kindergartens, as WHO and leading experts are recommending, because children transmit the virus for a longer period than adults, according to initial studies. Germany's Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, on the other hand, declared that closing schools should be avoided, so that parents are still available as workers for the enterprises. This, however, would eliminate any possibility of containment of the virus, as several Asian countries have been able to do. According to Chancellor Angela Merkel, "60 to 70 percent" of the population could be infected - throughout Germany.

First Aid Measures

In the corona crisis, the German government has decided first aid measures for the German economy. Already in the night from Sunday to Monday, the CDU/CSU and the SPD agreed to facilitate granting short-time working compensation for employees, requiring quarantine, due to suspected COVID-19 infection, or due to interruption of production because of a breakdown in the supply line.[1] The Federal Cabinet approved the measure on Tuesday in an urgent procedure. In addition, the governing parties have promised new investment funds. Already in early March, Germany's Minster of the Economy, Peter Altmaier, declared, Berlin is doing "everything to prevent the virus from affecting the economy throughout Germany,"[2] and plans to immediately "secure liquidity overhead for enterprises, especially the small and medium size enterprises." Alexander Dobrindt, head of the CSU parliamentary group, proposed a €50 billion investment package that can be rapidly activated.

"Good, but not Enough"

The German business community welcomed these measures and immediately called for more. For example, Joachim Lang, Chief Executive of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) declared, "initiate an investment offensive is good," but not enough. It would "be reasonable" to "set up a national investment alliance consisting of the federal, state and local authorities" and to "promise that the government will regularly present a government investment report to the Bundestag."[3] Tax benefits would also be desirable for the enterprises and "projects of private investors" should be "facilitated." The German industry is threatened by the "longest recession since the unification" and this must be prevented. In addition to the BDI, several other associations and business think tanks have presented lists of their demands. On Friday evening, Chancellor Merkel will negotiate supplementary measures with business and trade union representatives.

Important Lessons

The German government's hastily launched crisis measures in favor of the economy correspond to an astonishing indifference toward recommendations issued by international organizations for protection of the population, if these infringe on economic interests. This applies, for example, to the recommendations made by the World Health Organization (WHO), which Berlin partially ignores, even though, when serving German interests, Berlin gladly poses as the guardian of a "rule-based international order." In late February the WHO published a report, wherein it openly praises the steps China had taken, following initially fatal attempts at a cover-up. China's "uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures," to "contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus" have "provided vital lessons for the global response" to the spread of the disease, according to the report.[4] This is referring to strict quarantine measures, including cancellation not only of all major events, but also the closure of schools and businesses. With this, the People's Republic of China has become the first country to successfully contain the COVID-19 virus. Yesterday only 24 new cases have been reported, of which ten were returnees, infected abroad. In addition, currently containment has also been successful in Singapore and Hong Kong. Both had applied strict quarantine measures.

"Reset Immediately"

Already in WHO's late February report, mentioned above, it was noted that "much of the global community" is "not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China."[5] These are "the only measures" that are currently proven "to interrupt or minimize transmission chains." Among its recommendations, WHO urgently advises that not only immediate exhaustive testing and rigorous quarantine be applied, but more extensive steps must be taken, such as the closure of schools and workplaces. German experts agree with these proposals. For example the microbiologist and virologist at the University of Halle-Wittenberg, Alexander Kekulé, spoke in favor of imposing a "14 day compulsory recess," including closing all schools and kindergartens, which could lead to a sort of "reset." "If we intend to do this, then immediately," explained Kekulé: "In six weeks, it will be too late."[6] Closing schools is important, because although children develop few symptoms of illness, they transmit the virus for a much longer period.[7] In the meantime, several EU countries have brought themselves to implement this step - Italy, Greece, Romania, Austria, and Denmark - as well as 19 other countries around the world.[8]

"What Really Matters"

The German government has yet to comply with the WHO - and renowned experts' - recommendations. The measures, it prioritizes concern only leisure time activities - and exclude job activities as much as possible. At the beginning of the week, German Minister of Health Jens Spahn declared it is "of course easier to abstain from going to a concert, dropping by the club, or a soccer match, than it is to go to work every day." "Over the next few weeks and months, this set of priorities is what really matters."[9] To avoid infection, one should avoid public transportation as much as possible, rather walk or take a bicycle. Spahn explicitly spoke out against closing schools and kindergartens, which are to be avoided so that parents can continue to go to work.[10]

No Containment

Prioritizing German economic interests is therefore incompatible with what is necessary for containing the COVID-19 virus. Accordingly, Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday, Wednesday, that the objective is not the containment of the virus, but rather retarding its transmission: "We have to gain time."[11] This is necessary, because otherwise our health system could collapse, after all, says Merkel, experts part from the premise that "60 - 70 percent" of the German population could become infected. That period should be prolonged as much as possible. Of course, this does not change the mortality rate, which WHO estimates to currently be at around 3.4 percent. Scientists object that this estimation is too high, given the unreported cases of those infected, which would therefore probably place it closer to one percent. Of course even this 1% mortality rate would still be ten times higher than that of the normal seasonal influenza.[12]

 

[1] Kurzarbeit und Investitionen - so hilft der Staat. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10.03.2020.

[2] Altmaier will Liquiditätsspielräume von Firmen sicherstellen. handelsblatt.com 03.03.2020.

[3] Industrie begrüßt Beschlüsse zum Wirtschaftsschutz. bdi.eu 09.03.2020.

[4], [5] Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). 16-24 February 2020.

[6] Imre Grimm: Kompletter Corona-Shutdown: Würde unserer Gesellschaft eine Zwangspause guttun? rnd.de 07.03.2020.

[7] Kinder stecken sich mit dem Coronavirus an, werden aber nicht krank. deutschlandfunk.de 09.03.2020.

[8] COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response. en.unesco.org 11.03.2020.

[9], [10] Heike Schmoll: Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10.03.2020.

[11] Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung: Coronavirus in Deutschland. Merkel ruft zu Solidarität auf. Berlin, 11.03.2020.

[12] Wolfram Weimer: Welche Sterberate ist zu erwarten? n-tv.de 10.03.2020.