More courage, less covid caution

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Wed 24th Feb, 2021

As the lockdown drags on and the German government plays Russian roulette with personal liberty and measured responses, the population craves a return to normalcy and the lifting of restriction on private movement and freedom..

In Italy and the U.S., after all, even outdoor dining is allowed. Boris Johnson is even announcing a timetable for freeing the British from all Corona requirements by the end of June.

Germans also wish for their former lives back, dreaming of Easter or at least summer vacations. The stern chancellor, however, reminds them of all the things they can't do until the incidence rate drops below 50 or even below 35. The goal posts move as quickly as the politicians need it.

The way the pandemic is being handled reflects the set of values of German proverbs: haste makes waste; what goes around comes around.

Risk aversion and prudence are in the blood of the Germans after the extremism in their history. They are reluctant to experiment with relaxation when the risk is unmanageable. They prefer to fiddle around until they see a safe solution, and thus endure the disadvantages for a long time. After all, patience is often rewarded - if only in the form of schadenfreude because the daredevils fall flat on their face.

The Germans have done well with their caution claim some. Even in a pandemic that has now lasted over twelve months, the healthcare system, the welfare state and public order have not even temporarily faltered. However economic output has plummeted by only five percent and the risk was always going to be the longer term damage shortsighted political posturing would cause.

The Corona app didn't perform as well as it should have. Restrictions and quarantine requirements for returnees from at-risk areas were barely monitored, let alone enforced. Digital schooling fared worse than many neighbors to whom Germans feel technologically superior. Lack of laptops and tablets, inadequate Internet, digital laymen among the teaching staff, excessive data protection - that's Germany, too.  Even the German ex-defence minister, newly appointed to the EU, managed to mangle the EU vaccine acquisition and rollout, despite Germany being one of the developers of the vaccine.

Others are now ahead in vaccinating, testing and loosening. In Israel, more than 80 percent of citizens are vaccinated. In the U.K., it's 30 percent, and in the U.S., 20 percent - both countries that Germany thought were clearly behind it in the Corona scorecard. In this country, only four percent are vaccinated, and the order is currently being changed again; teachers are to get their turn earlier so that schools can open. The U.S. has been doing this for a long time.

Vaccination and testing are key to keeping the risks of opening manageable. But the government has withdrawn the promise of free testing for all from March 1 because of a lack of preparation.

Even in pre-crisis times, questions were occasionally raised about whether success had made Germans fed up and satisfied, so that they clung to the status quo, and the ambition to keep pushing the envelope in terms of innovation, quality and reliability waned. Throw in a near "world worst" level of needless bureaucracy and you are left with a lumbering, idle apparatus which failed everyone.

The longer the pandemic lasts, the bigger the question marks become. In beleaguered Italy, it is not politicians who decide for entire regions of the country what is permitted there. A science-based algorithm that takes into account incidence, hospital utilization, excess mortality and much more divides regions into green, yellow and red zones.

Everyone can see by the color which requirements and freedoms apply. Germany, on the other hand, is arguing whether it is "fair" for some to have more freedoms than others - instead of asking: What is the benefit of opening up quickly?

There is nothing wrong with caution and prudence. For a successful way out of the crisis, courage must not be lacking: Courage to innovate, to come up with unorthodox ideas, and to experiment with how the loosening can succeed swiftly. It's a question of mindset whether concerns and risk aversion take precedence. Or opening up paths to the future.  Yet the pandemic is a smokescreen.  The real problem is economics. The pandemic just showcases how much we have rested on our laurels failed to work efficiently when needed. Now we need to learn the lessons of what we did wrong, then turn the spotlight on our economic failures and the need to ramp up our various business sectors to grasp a fair slice of the global cake, else we will be left as the Olivier Twist of the Western world.

Image by Oliver Cole


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