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Coronavirus: How Germany is showing solidarity amid the outbreak

  • March 13, 2020

“We have to change our everyday lives — not gradually, but right now,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday in an appeal to the people of Germany.

Solidarity “is the task of the hour,” he urged, following a meeting with Heath Minister Jens Spahn and the president of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler. Those who are most at risk from  COVID-19 (Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2) — the elderly and people who are chronically ill or have pre-existing conditions — need support from the community.

Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized a similar message on Wednesday, saying: “Our solidarity, our common sense and our care for one another are being put to the test — which I hope will pass.”

Read more: Merkel calls for social distancing as deaths mount

According to experts, Germany has around four weeks to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus, also dubbed SARS-CoV-2, and to prevent the country’s health system from becoming overloaded.

Germany also needs to buy time for research into vaccines and treatments for the virus. Current data indicates that one in five people who are infected will become seriously ill. If the situation is not taken seriously, experts believe the mortality rate for at-risk groups will be around 20 to 25%, Christian Drosten, the leading virologist at Berlin’s Charité hospital, told public broadcaster NDR.

Decisions made by local authorities and companies can contributed to slow the spread. DW takes a look at what private individuals in Germany can do — and are doing — to help out.

Read more: Coronavirus begins shutting down public life across Germany

Staying at home during your time off

The decision whether to attend a conference, go to a concert, watch a soccer match in a stadium or go to work in the office is no longer an entirely personal choice for people living in Germany right now.

Whether they visit friends in a neighboring state, go to their neighbor’s housewarming party or sit at the bar instead of on the sofa is — currently — still up to them.

But already last Monday, Health Minister Spahn appealed to the public’s sense of personal responsibility. “It is surely easier to give up concerts and soccer games than giving up going to work,” he said at a press conference in Berlin.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus


    It’s one of the most widespread greetings in the business world. But will the traditional handshake go out of style? Health experts recommend avoiding it to reduce the risk of contracting the coronarvirus. Germany’s interior minister took that advice seriously and refused to shake Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand. They both laughed and Merkel threw her hand up in the air before taking a seat.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus

    Double-cheek kiss

    France’s government has advised its citizens to cut back on the traditional “bise” — greeting by kissing others on both cheeks. But French President Emmanuel Macron nevertheless gave the double-kiss greeting to Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte during a summit in Naples this week, symbolically demonstrating that he didn’t fear contact with the neighboring country affected by a coronavirus surge.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus

    High five

    It’s a gesture that was first popularized by baseball and basketball players in the US. About 50% fewer bacteria are transferred by high-fiving than by shaking hands — meaning that it’s still not completely risk-free.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus

    Fist bump

    Commonly used in sports, the greeting was also popularized by former US President Obama, shown here with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Beyond the coolness factor, the fist bump transmits significantly fewer germs than shaking hands — about 90% less according to one study.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus


    Hugging is another way to spread germs, but research has also shown that the warm embrace of a loved one may strengthen the immune system — and in some cases, it can boost diplomatic ties. This hug between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 triggered various reactions on both sides of the border. They had previously opted for the more formal handshake.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus

    Shoulder pat

    Australia’s New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard recommends this gesture: “It’s time that Aussies actually gave each other a pat on the back for the time being — no handshaking,” he said. While it transmits less bacteria than the previously mentioned forms of greetings, the pat on the back can be perceived as condescending by some people.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus


    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip wave here from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The original gesture derived from a 18th-century tradition of knights saluting each other after removing the guard of their helmets to reveal their identity and show that they were coming in peace. Waving can, however, be seen as offensive in some countries.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus

    Fist and palm salute

    In China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, one greeting recommendation is the traditional gong shou gesture, or the fist and palm salute, as demonstrated above by actress Miya Muqi at the Cannes screening of “Ash Is The Purest White” in 2018.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus

    Thai wai

    A slight bow with palms pressed together in a prayer-like position: The Thai wai greeting is widespread in various southeast Asian countries — also known as the Indian namaste or the Burmese mingalar par.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus

    Japanese bow

    Similarly safe, Japan’s traditional sign of salutation and reverence still belongs to everyday life. Learning to bow elegantly is an important part of becoming a respectable adult. Here, employees of a department store in Tokyo practice their greeting ahead of the start of a New Year sale.

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus


    A recent viral video from China shows yet another alternative to the handshake: the “footshake,” also dubbed the “Wuhan handshake.” Rubbing dirty feet is still safer than touching hands…

  • Handshakes and kisses in a time of coronavirus


    Probably the easiest way to greet someone without sharing germs and making a faux pas is to look the other person in the eyes, smile and say hello.

    Author: Elizabeth Grenier

The Health Ministry also warns on its website: “Whenever possible, travel and public transportation should be avoided and work should be done from home. In general, any [physical or social] contact should be reduced.”

Drosten also urged people to act responsibly in their private lives. For example, he advised parents to change up their usual routine of what happens when their child gets sick.

Instead of having the grandparents step in to help with childcare, parents should rather think about protecting older family members, Drosten said. Taking over certain tasks for elderly family members like grocery shopping would be helpful, “so that they don’t have to go to the supermarket all the time.”

Actively helping those at risk

If there’s a positive side effect to the outbreak, it’s that people are reaching out to neighbors and stepping up to help.

Using the hashtag #Nachbarschaftschallenge (neighborhood challenge), social media users in Germany are calling on people to help shop or do other tasks for people nearby who are elderly or have compromised immune systems.

A group of schoolchildren in neighboring Austria launched an initiative on Instagram and Twitter in which they offer to go grocery shopping for people in their area who are at risk. In Germany, people have formed Facebook groups to coordinate similar efforts in their neighborhoods.

The website “Gegen den Virus” (Against the Virus) offers a free poster in several languages that people can download and hang up in their apartment buildings where neighbors can let each other know who is available to help.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas praised the campaigns, writing on Twitter: “I want to thank all those who are there for their fellow human beings and who are indirectly saving lives.”

German journalist Dunja Hayali also wrote on Twitter that “now is the time to help, and to show solidarity.” For example, everyone “could simply ask their neighbor if they need help.” Thomas Meyer, the Brussels correspondent for Austrian newspaper Der Standard tweeted: “Today I already called three friends who are shopping for their elderly neighbors so that they can stay home. That’s how it works!”

A slightly different offer of help came from the Swiss-American comedian Hazel Brugger and TV presenter Aline von Drateln. They offered to help take over child care for parents in their district who need to go to work, they wrote on Twitter.

Many of Germany’s neediest people may soon have difficulty finding enough food, as food banks close or are unable to meet customers’ needs due to fewer donations

Donate food

Panic buying due to coronavirus doesn’t just cause bottlenecks in supermarkets. Germany’s food banks regularly provide some 1.6 million needy people with food — but many such organizations have received significantly fewer food donations recently, Jochen Brühl, head of Germany’s national food bank association, told the Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper earlier this week. Brühl has since told the dpa press agency that the situation is normalizing again in some places. Nevertheless, he appealed to the population to think of those with fewer financial resources. “Anyone who realizes they have bought too much food is welcome to contact the food banks and donate it.” 

Germany’s Green party has also called for people to donate to food banks. “Impoverished people in particular are now relying on solidarity,” the party’s parliamentary leaders, Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Anton Hofreiter said in a statement.

But another significant problem is threatening food banks’ ability to help: Some 90% of food bank volunteers in Germany are older and therefore in a higher risk group for coronavirus, says the German food bank association Tafel Deutschland e.V. The association has called for a “wave of solidarity” to assist banks that “need support to set up or expand delivery services, pack food in bags or packages, and hand it out.”

Food sharing groups have also asked for donations, with one group in Bremen calling on people whose events were cancelled due to the virus to donate their excess food. The appeal has since been shared on Twitter more than 14,000 times.

Donate blood

Several blood donation services of the German Red Cross (DRK) have appealed to citizens to donate blood “even in times of the flu, rampant colds and the coronavirus.” Many donors are now canceling previously booked appointments in donation venues, according to the German Red Cross Western Blood Donation service, which supplies hospitals and medical practices in three of Germany’s western states.

“Under certain circumstances, this can mean that we can no longer fulfill our care mandate, because a publicly accessible donation center is the first cornerstone in a sensitive chain of care for patients with blood in therapy and emergency care,” local DRK branches said on their websites.

The current recommendations to stay at home and not attend any gatherings cannot be applied to mobile blood donation appointments, however. “Here, significantly fewer people come together, and they are generally those who are healthy,” said the service. Those who feel sick should simply not donate blood. “In addition, the blood donation appointments are always carried out under medical supervision and taking into account the highest hygiene and safety standards. For example, all those willing to donate will have their temperature taken immediately before having a consultation with the doctor.”

Read more: Are German hospitals unprepared for coronavirus outbreak?

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Food donations drop

    Panic-buying has left empty shelves in supermarkets — and food banks. With Germans snapping up canned goods and toilet paper to weather the outbreak, stores have fewer supplies left over to donate to the needy, said Jochen Brühl, head of Tafel Deutschland, which supports more than 1.5 million people with surplus groceries and other donations. Brühl encouraged those who had overreacted to donate.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Bundesliga behind closed doors

    Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged that all events with more than 1,000 participants be called off. The German Football League (DFL) has suspended the Bundesliga until April 2, saying health was a “top priority” and u-turning on a previous decision to play in empty stadiums The derby between FC Cologne and Borussia Mönchengladbach was the first-ever Bundesliga match without fans.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Cultural cancellations

    Cultural life has also taken a hit, with major fairs and trade shows canceled or postponed. Among the casualties was the Leipzig Book Fair and the Musikmesse Frankfurt, Europe’s biggest music trade fair. Numerous clubs, galleries and museums across the country, and the gala award show for the annual German film and television award, the Goldene Kamera, has been moved to November.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Schools set to close

    Unlike in Italy, schools across Germany have remain open. As of mid-March that is set to change as many states close schools for several weeks, some until after the Easter holidays in mid-April.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Not the ‘Wuhan flu’

    The Chinese origin of the virus has led to an increase in xenophobic sentiment in the places worst hit by the outbreak. Asian restaurants and stores — not just Chinese — have reported empty tables in Western countries like the US and Italy, and people with Asian features have experienced discrimination. At a recent Bundesliga game in Leipzig, a group of Japanese fans was ejected from the stadium.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Flights grounded

    German airline Lufthansa has massively reduced its flight capacity as business and personal travel is cut back. The flagship carrier is now seeking state aid, according to a report from Germany business newspaper Handelsblatt. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr will be attending a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to government sources.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Car production crippled

    Car plants in China have been shut down since January, and major German automakers like Volkswagen and Daimler have said both sales and production have been hit by the epidemic. And with many automakers sourcing electric car parts from China, work at plants in Germany has also hit a stumbling block. Berlin has said it plans to financially support companies suffering coronavirus losses.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Fewer tourists

    “The consequences for the German tourism sector are serious,” warned Guido Zöllick, head of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association. Already by the second week of March, 76.1% had reported a sharp decrease in bookings and a drop in revenue. In Berlin, the German parliament has announced that tourists won’t be allowed to access the glass dome of the Reichstag building until further notice.

  • How is coronavirus affecting life in Germany?

    Border checks

    After Italy and France, Germany has the largest number of coronavirus cases in Europe. In an effort to prevent further spread, authorities in Poland and the Czech Republic have begun spot checks, measuring the temperature of travelers crossing main road borders out of Germany. Poland plans to extend the controls to other railway and port crossings.

    Author: Martin Kuebler

The university clinics in the western cities of Bonn and Essen also recorded a significant drop in blood donations. Compared to the previous year, 30% fewer donors came to the blood donation service after the recent Carnival period, according to a statement by the University Hospital Bonn. Radio Essen is currently reporting 20% fewer donors.

It can be assumed that “the situation in the other states will develop in the same way and that we will be confronted with a problem that lasts longer,” Dr. Jochen Hoch, senior physician at the Bonn University Institute for Experimental Hematology and Transfusion Medicine, has said. Currently, returning travelers from China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and parts of France, as well as people who have had contact with infected persons and suspected cases, are being told not to donate blood for at least the next four weeks. But those who wish to help should remember that donating blood even in the time of coronavirus is harmless,  and the safety of both donors and recipients is of top priority to medical personnel.

Whether via donations, social media campaigns or taking measures to change one’s own habits, the coming weeks and months will show how much solidarity German society is ready to show as the coronavirus crisis takes hold.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Get creative with preserved food

    Making tinned food appetizing may take some kitchen wizardry, but it’s certainly not impossible. Why not up the ante when it comes to cuisine and also boost your body’s defenses at the same time? You may be inspired to experiment with a sinus-clearing home made laksa, or whip together a tuna poke bowl with tinned sweetcorn and fresh ginger to give your immune system an extra boost.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    No gym, no excuse

    There’s plenty that you can do to keep your body in fighting shape if you can’t head to the gym. You can get your blood pumping with work-out or yoga tutorials online, or if you’re looking to step things up a little, those tins of food now lining your pantry can make for great free weights.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Tackle your spring cleaning

    You could take the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and channel your excess energy into getting every corner of your home sparkling. It’s also never been a better time to ‘Marie Kondo’ your life and clear out all that excess clutter. You might even free up some extra storage space for the year’s supply of toilet paper now sitting in your bathroom.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Pretend you’re in the audience with live-streams

    One club in Shanghai streamed DJ sets on TikTok so that viewers could participate in “cloud raves” from home. If you’re disappointed about cancelled concerts or heated live debates and want to feel like you’re not missing out, keep an eye out for live-streamed events on social media.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Catch up on binge-worthy TV

    Binge-watching the latest TV shows is a guaranteed way to get your mind off things. Perhaps the mini-series “Chernobyl” may put things in perspective if you’re only feeling the doom and gloom perpetuated by the news. Alternatively, if you’re after something lighter as a pick-me-up, you can just spend 6 hours and 20 minutes a day watching “Friends” to finish all 236 episodes in 14 days.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Distract yourself with a board game

    All this free time may give you the chance to blow the dust off some old board games and challenge your quarantine comrades to a round. It’ll help fend off boredom and lift your spirits while you wait things out. If you’re quarantined solo, most classic games have mobile app versions on which you can play against friends online.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Do your taxes

    Still not having fun? This suggestion is sure to change that. By the time we’re all back at work and have caught up with the backlog, tax time will be upon us again before we expect. Take the time to get your ducks in a row to save yourself the stress later on, but feel free to take a rest if it’s all too exciting.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Learn a new skill

    These days, you can learn almost anything online. If you’ve been thinking about learning to code, or perhaps even picking up a language like German (hint hint), online providers have made it easy and often free, so there’s no excuse not to put your free time to good use.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Call your grandma

    If your relatives complain about only seeing you during the holidays, it’s a good time to give them a ring. While you may find yourself stuck on the line for an hour or two, they’ll appreciate the surprise check-in. If you haven’t already, it’s also a good idea to make sure that they’re looked after and are staying healthy in what’s a particularly risky situation for older people.

  • How to combat corona cabin fever

    Plan a vacation

    Holiday planning is a nice way to escape your apartment, even if it’s only imaginatively. Fill your time daydreaming about relaxing in Bali or taking in some clean, virus particle-free air in the alps somewhere while giving yourself something to look forward to once the situation subsides. Just don’t forget to book travel insurance because you never know what the next crisis situation will be.

    Author: Sean Goodwin

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