Six months of lockdown…and the corona pandemic is not over yet
Even as more and more people are vaccinated, the number of new infections continues to fall and the end of the third wave has been declared, there’s still some time before normalcy returns to everyday life in Germany
It’s been six months. More than six months actually. Germany has been in some kind of lockdown or the other in the period, and despair continues to trump hope.
In November last year started something dubbed the “lockdown lite” and by December things had become stricter. Christmas and New Year were essentially restricted affairs. So were the Easter holidays. In March there were talks of relaxations with brakes. However, an increase in the numbers, owing largely to the highly contagious UK variant (B.1.1.7), meant the federal government had to take things under control.
With the votes of the coalition, and despite extensive criticism from the opposition, the parliament (Bundestag) passed changes to the Infection Protection Act and thus created the legal basis for the implementation of the “Federal Emergency Brake”, or provisions for uniform corona rules across the country. The amendments to the law gave the federal government the power to order contact restrictions and closings, as well as imposition of night curfews — from 22:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m . — in areas with a seven-day incidence of more than 100.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the nationwide corona emergency brake, that came into force in April, as “dringend nötig (urgently needed)”.
“The aim is to slow the third wave of the pandemic first, then to stop it and finally to reverse it,” clarified Merkel. With the new regulation, for the first time in the corona pandemic, the federal government assumed responsibilities that previously lay with the federal states.
Germany’s handling of the situation during the first wave was hailed as role model. However, from the second wave to the third wave it had gone from bad to worse, with many question the government’s response in a country that is known worldwide for its efficiency.
While smaller countries like Finland, Israel, New Zealand and South Korea are winning the battle against the virus comprehensively, and major ones like United Kingdom and the United States are doing exceedingly well as far as vaccine roll out is concerned the availability of vaccines and consequently the pace of vaccination were major issues of concern for Merkel’s government.
Things have improved since with over 30 per cent of Germans having received at least one shot of the vaccine. The number of reported infections, and deaths, have considerably reduced in recent weeks and while Germany remains in the top 10 in total cases there’s no exponential growth in numbers, as was the case not long back. This, despite a few reported cases of the new Indian variant (B.1.617.2).
In early May the federal and state governments decided to lift the preference for risk groups for the AstraZeneca vaccine, meaning people in Germany will be able to get vaccinated with this vaccine in their doctor’s practice without prioritization.
However, a lot remains to done. Even as tourism reopens in Europe there’s no relaxation of rules for those making their way from Germany. It has been reported that the government, from the first week of June, plans to facilitate vaccines for anyone who’s aged 18 years and above. A planned withdrawal of corona restrictions for fully vaccinated has also been approved. In other words, vaccinated and convalescent people no longer need a negative test. Work is also underway towards a vaccine passport that will enable tourists to travel more freely and avoid the mandatory quarantine rules, unless absolutely necessary.
Experts opine that increased vaccination and continued observation of corona-imposed rules like personal hygiene, social distancing and use of masks in public places will bring the seven-day incidence rate down to under 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants by the end of June. The incidence rate is now under 100 in many states, prompting them to contemplate easing of restrictions.
While lockerungen (relaxations) have been discussed, and even implemented in certain states, the element of caution is all the more apparent. A state like Schleswig-Holstein, for example, has opened for tourists there are a slew of do’s and don’ts. Likewise, the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is only allowing tourists from within.
There is hope for the summer vacation. Chancellor Merkel spoke of the end of the third wave earlier this month even as the nationwide emergency brake fell in many places. However, there are also cautious voices. “The pandemic is not over yet,” warned Beyern’s Prime Minister Markus Söder.
There are others who concur the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is not over yet, and with new emerging variants, the vaccination available at present is certainly not the cure.
According to the Standing Vaccination Commission, Germans will probably have to be vaccinated against the virus again next year at the latest. Should mutations spread that are not effective enough against the current vaccine, an adapted vaccine may have to be replenished earlier than expected.
Towards the end of the third week of May Health Minister Jens Spahn announced the Dritte Welle or third wave of infections to be broken while also being hopeful as regards prospects of a good summer. However, the minister also said the public would have to be prepared to accept the re-imposition of restrictions should they be lifted in the near term, and if things get worse thereafter. Lothar Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the main public health body in Germany, urged the people to stay the course of caution for now.
“We have achieved a lot in the past weeks. Let us continue down this path,” Wieler was quoted as saying.
It is a fact that an uniform national vaccination rollout and continued testing has ensured declining infections and deaths to COVID-19 in Germany. It is a fact that in line with the approaching summer there is a noticeable easing of the corona measures.
It is also a fact there’s finally hope among the people of the country after six months of despair. However, all things considered there’s still some time before normalcy returns to everyday life.