Moral of the story is Europe in general, and Germany in particular, have seemingly not learnt much from last winter’s coronavirus situation. While the continent is again the epicenter of the pandemic, its biggest economy is the worst sufferer
Let’s begin by going a year back for the purpose of reference. Last November the world’s perception as regards Germany’s status as a role model in the fight against the coronavirus/COVID-19 had already diminished. Hailed as a success story in the Erste Welle or First Wave, Europe’s largest economy had become a colossal disappointment in its handling of the situation during the Zweite Welle (Second Wave), largely owing to the fact that its citizens seemed determined to enjoy freiheit (freedom) and in the process ignored their leaders repeated appeals for besonnenheit (prudence).
A partial lockdown, or Lockdown Lite, was imposed in November and it didn’t take long for the authorities to realize that the move had failed to ensure the desired results. Lothar Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) — Germany’s premier health body, admitted in early December last year that the situation was worse than ever ‘due to carelessness’ of its people. Sorglosigkeit (carelessness) was the termed used back then.
It was not long before further restrictions, and stricter measures, came into force albeit with some relaxation during the Christmas festivities, Silvester (New Year’s Eve) and Neujahr (New Year). Despite rolling out the vaccine in the last week of December Germany was facing a raft of logistical challenges. Consequently, vaccination had made sluggish progress.
A new strain of the virus found in Britain, initially named B.1.1.7 and now referred to as the Alpha variant, added to the existing set of woes. The lockdown continued for months and things palpably came to a standstill.
Fast forward to November 2021, and after a few months of improvement the situation in Germany began worsening again. It’s a feeling of déjà vu. The German authorities as also its people were equally culpable of not learning from last winter’s precarious coronavirus situation. A combination of factors ranging from Corona fatigue to federal elections, from slow pace of vaccination to vaccine hesitancy meant Europe’s most populous nation was back to square one, and witnessing a Vierte Welle (Fourth Wave).
Expectedly people were skeptical about their freedoms, while the authorities failed to act fast enough to stop the incidence rates from reaching record highs. Despite the availability the reluctance of a major chunk to get vaccinated meant the rate of those administered the double dose hovered around the 70 per cent mark, even as the number of infections were on the up again, significantly at that.
A new variant, B.1.1.529, first divulged in South Africa and subsequently named Omicron is making the headlines this time, and the corona-related woes are apparent around the country. The calls for mandatory vaccinations are getting louder as are the repeated attempts to curb further contact restrictions. Then there was another variant, registered as B.1.640.2 and first identified in France, that suddenly garnered headlines. However, the World Health Organization subsequently downplayed concerns over the variant.
While dubbing it Pandemie der Ungeimpften, or the pandemic of the unvaccinated maybe partly true, part of the blame should also be put on the authorities. And rightly so. This being an election year the focus of the parties and the politicians was more on the related activities, and as such corona-related measures got confined to the backburner. With the numbers dropping in the summer months there was negligence on part of both the authorities and the people. Throw in the obstinate behavior of a sizeable majority for a good measure, and you have the reemergence of a catastrophic situation and alarm bells all around.
To be fair Germany isn’t only country where the numbers have gone up just before the advent of winter. Europe is once again the epicenter of the pandemic. Data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control indicate that the EU-wide vaccination rate is 66 per cent, less than that of Germany (68.4). Following significant increase in numbers authorities in Austria and the Netherlands were forced to re-impose lockdown, partial in case of the latter, in November. Denmark, one of the first countries to lift the lockdown completely, has also witnessed a rise in cases.
Countries like Italy, Portugal and Spain — three of the worst sufferers during the first wave — also witnessed an increase in numbers. There were cases of the Omicron variant also reported in these countries. While their overall situation was initially well under control things got worse as days passed. However, considering the population of these countries is significantly less, making it comparatively easier for their governments to control the situation.
Unfortunately for Germany the cases are soaring, hospitals are reaching full capacity, doctors working overtime and the overall situation has again gone out of control. Things have come to a point where doctors are being forced to postpone non-critical operations to a later date in a bid to accommodate more cases while also having to prioritize cases, as in giving importance to those who have a better chance at survival. Worse still, there are no signs of improvement.
This December the federal and state governments presented measures to curb the spread of the virus including significant contact restrictions for unvaccinated people, measures that effectively bans the country’s unvaccinated population from all non-essential businesses, such as bars, restaurants, stadiums and movie theaters. It is reasoned that these measures can slow down the fourth wave, even without a lockdown.
It has been decided to step up the vaccination rate, with the authorities also setting a brave target of achieving 30 million corona vaccinations to be achieved by Christmas. Following in the footsteps of their Austrian counterparts the German politicians are also mulling making vaccination mandatory from early next year. At the same time it has become obvious that the fourth wave cannot be broken by only vaccination and tougher contact restrictions would be the best way forward.
There are many experts who have cast doubt over whether Germany’s new measures are stringent enough to slow down the transmission. As things stand there are stricter nationwide protection requirements and further restrictions for unvaccinated people even as the federal government is organizing millions of additional vaccine doses to get the numbers up.
While another total lockdown may or may not happen it is highly likely that Germans had to make do with restricted Christmas festivities and low key New Year celebrations for a second successive year.
In the midst of all these measures protests (sometimes violent) continue across the country, the protesters demanding freedom like they have done so for about two years now.