It is still some time before the tourists and travelers can comprehend another holiday, get out of the confines of their respective homes and do what they enjoy doing the most, that is, travel
The year 2020 began on a beautiful note. On the New Year’s Eve we left Seville for Malaga. The plan was fairly simple — to explore Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) in the New Year.
While Malaga was without doubt going to be the base, high on the agenda was to travel to smaller places in the region like Estepona, Fuengirola, Marbella…all the way to the border town of La Linea and then, to Gibraltar. Everything went as per plan and we came back home with many beautiful memories of that two-week vacation. Those memories continue to be part of our dining table conversations. Little did we know that trip to the south of Spain was going to be our last elaborate holiday for quite some time.
For a couple that loves to travel and takes off every three months, with little or no planning, the year gone by has been tough in more ways than one. Living in Europe is usually a huge advantage. There are many options available for those keen to travel. Our idea was to head to the Mediterranean again towards the end of 2020, this time to a completely new destination, on another elaborate year-end vacation.
But it was not to be. A certain virus had other plans.
Germany’s first coronavirus (or SARS-CoV-2) case was confirmed near Munich on January 27, 2020, even as we were thinking of taking a short trip to Hungary in early April. The initial restrictions announced in March last year, despite the many protests that followed, ensured the country was hailed as the major success story in the western hemisphere — at a time when major countries like France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and, in particular, the United States, were struggling to contain the rising number of cases (and deaths).
In her address on 15 April Chancellor Angela Merkel observed “fragile intermediate success” that had been achieved, and on the same day the loosening of restrictions was announced. The month of May brought in better news. Germans could travel to other European countries for sommerurlaub (summer vacation). We preferred to postpone our holiday, in a bid to avoid the rush that was expected.
In the hindsight it was an apt decision. For the moment the restrictions were eased almost everyone took a vacation, some to places that were deemed “hot spots” — with increasing number of cases. The impact was immediate. Towards the end of August, infection numbers had returned to the levels of April, and by mid October a second wave of the pandemic seemed inevitable — and also went kaput our plans of a short vacation in late September (early October).
Partial restrictions, dubbed Lockdown Light, were imposed from 2 November. However, it was anything but a success, with the number of reported infections crossing the one million mark towards the end of the month.
Michael Kretschmer, Minister President of Saxony — one of the worst hit states, was categorical in his assessment. Der Lockdown-light hat wenig gebracht“ (“The lockdown light has brought little”), he was quoted as saying in the media.
Lothar Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) — advisor for German disease and epidemic control, made a similar assessment in early December, saying Covid-19 worse than ever in Germany ‘due to carelessness’ of its people. Sorglosigkeit (carelessness) was the termed used. (Thankfully, we weren’t guilty of that) On 11 December, the RKI raised its assessment of the level of danger to the health of the general population to “very high”.
Also by November, the global perception as regards Germany’s status as a role model in the fight against the coronavirus had diminished. Hailed as a success story in the first wave, Germany had become a major failure during the second wave, largely because its citizens demanded freiheit (freedom) and ignored their leader’s repeated appeals for besonnenheit (prudence). Freiheit fordern in Zeiten der Besonnenheit, or demanding freedom in times of prudence, has turned Germany from a role model in tackling the coronavirus pandemic to becoming one of the most affected countries.
Referring to the partial lockdown in place since November Merkel admitted that Germany was in a “very difficult situation” and that it would not be able to “get through the winter” with the existing measures. She warned her compatriots that “these next winter weeks will be the hardest phase of the pandemic” so far, with many doctors and medical staff working at their limits.
A hard lockdown was imposed from 15 December until 10 January 2021, with some relaxation during the Christmas festivities, but the infection numbers remained high. Circumstances had once again forced us to postpone our year-end vacation. While it meant we had had no holiday for over a year, it seemed prudent. Staying in the secure bubble of your own home is always a better option than risking getting infected owing to carelessness.
We also made a conscious decision to avoid Silvesterpartys (New Years Eve parties), Neujahrspartys (New Year parties) or any such arrangements where there would be a large gathering of people. Some friends expectedly complained, but we remained adamant with our decision, which was fairly simple: if we could sacrifice on our holidays, we could definitely avoid crowded parties.
In the country albeit the exact opposite happened. Even though most people didn’t go for vacation in the period, there were parties galore and flouting of restrictions became increasingly rampant. Every second day there were reports of the police dissolving celebrations in a basement or crashing into a party where the number of people present were way above the advised limits.
The country had closed schools, non-essential shops, bars and restaurants, and restricted private meetings, but the number of new infections had not been substantially reduced. The coronavirus continued to spread, even as reports of a new strain of the virus, found in Britain, added to the existing set of woes.
In early January Bild quoted Merkel as saying, “If we don’t manage to hold off this British virus, we will have a 10-fold incidence by Easter. We need another 8–10 weeks of tough measures.” By the fourth week of January Germany had more than 2.2 million reported cases, and had entered the not so enviable top 10 list of countries with most infections — a huge setback for a country that had dropped down to number 23 before the second wave arrived. Worse still, the fatality rate — number of coronavirus-related deaths also rose sharply, crossing the 57,000 mark by the end of January.
Not to forget Germany, despite rolling out the vaccine in the last week of December, was facing a raft of logistical challenges and had made sluggish progress, with reports of vaccine shortage from various parts of the country. All these developments, rather lack of it, forced the government to extend the lockdown further till the end February.
Even as the government opted for a gradual relaxation in restriction in early March people headed to the island of Palma de Mallorca, the German’s favorite holiday destination and often dubbed Germany’s 17th state. However, no sooner had these restrictions come into effect the situation worsened, more so because of the new UK variant (B.1.1.7) and its mutations, forcing the government to apply notbremse (emergency brake) as decided, and those that failed the test were forced to extend their stay in Mallorca.
Merkel has acknowledged the vaccine campaign has got off to a slow start, while also expressing “but the tempo will pick up”. At the same time she has urged Germans to stay patient, saying she was “firmly convinced” the current tough curbs on public life are “absolutely necessary”.
In other words it means it is still some time before we can comprehend another holiday, get out of the confines of our home and do what we enjoy doing the most, that is, travel. Having said that being circumspect has helped us stay healthy (and coronavirus-free), which in these pandemic times is a huge achievement.