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Opinion: Germans rally behind Merkel amid coronavirus crisis

  • April 04, 2020

In times of great need, citizens tend to rally behind their governments. This happens in democracies, as well as in autocratic regimes. As such it’s hardly surprising that the government’s approval ratings are up, according to the latest ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll. But the extent of the surge is nevertheless impressive.

A couple of weeks ago, hardly anyone in Germany knew what the novel coronavirus was. The country’s coalition government had seemingly run out of steam, and disaffection among Germans had become palpable. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives did poorly in the Hamburg local elections, centrist Germans were warming to the Greens and right-wingers were enthralled by the populist AfD.

But now, only a few weeks later, Germans are suddenly overwhelmingly in support of their government again.

Read more: Angela Merkel sees ‘bit of hope,’ but keeps coronavirus lockdown in place

Germany is weathering the crisis

Its approval ratings are the highest of any governing coalition in 23 years. Merkel, who had largely avoided public appearances since the beginning of the year, enjoys the highest ratings ever of this legislative period.

Thurau, Jens

DW’s Jens Thurau

Citizens clearly tend to place trust in the political leadership they know during times of crisis. Two further factors, however, also help account for this approval rating boost. One is that the government has appeared level-headed in its actions. The other is that Germany, the country where many had grown exasperated over leaders’ inability to complete the Berlin Brandenburg Airport, or properly maintain schools and roads, has so far weathered the coronavirus crisis considerably well — especially by international comparison.

Merkel is heeding advice provided by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s public health agency. Not only that. Merkel, who many had believed lacked talent in holding public speeches, recently made a emphatic television address, in which she shared important facts. Granted, there might be the occasional disagreement with state premiers. But Germany’s federal system, which is often severely criticized, has proved particularly apt at responding to different stages of coronavirus infections across the country. Germans far and wide have come to realize what a good job the country’s countless district administrators, public health workers and mayors are doing. Hopefully, Germans will now be embarrassed just how much abuse, at times physical, these decisionmakers have endured by radicals and crazies.

Read more: As the coronavirus triggers a global economic crisis, just how bad could it get?

Level-headed experts

And, above all, Germans are having their nerves calmed by RKI experts and others, who are happy to admit they’re not all-knowing when it comes to the novel coronavirus. These experts have been doing their utmost to keep calm, keep abreast of developments and communicate clearly.

The governing coalition has been listening to their expertise, and acting upon it.

While this may appear an obvious thing for any government to do, the examples of Britain and the US indicate it isn’t necessarily so. Moreover, it is telling that many fear for the country’s economy as a whole, yet are not too worried about their own personal circumstances. If people are still this calm after two weeks of lockdown, things really cannot be that bad in Germany.

Read more: Coronavirus: What are the lockdown measures across Europe?

This is only the beginning

Nothing is perfect, of course. Germany’s health care system, for instance, needs improving. That hospitals were transformed into autonomous businesses is regrettable and detrimental to the situation. Besides, this is only the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. But there’s a realistic chance Germany’s leaders and citizens will manage a dramatic rise in infections. At this stage, of course, nobody will know what Germany will look like after this nightmare is over. But for now, Germans are complying with the manifold restrictions on everyday life because they recognize their necessity.

Germans have been taking to their balconies to applaud doctors, nurses, police officers and supermarket cashiers for their hard and essential work in these times. Let’s hope we will develop a greater appreciation of these professions going forward, and ensure they will be better paid.

  • A person rides a scooter into front of Beijing'd Center for disease control, prevention and research (Imago Images/UPI Photo/S. Shaver)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Pneumonia-like virus hits Wuhan

    On December 31, 2019, China notifies the World Health Organization of a string of respiratory infections in the city of Wuhan, home to some 11 million people. The root virus is unknown and disease experts around the world begin working to identify it. The strain is traced to a seafood market in the city, which is quickly shut down. Some 40 people are initially reported to be infected.

  • Chinese medical staff carry a box outside a hospital (Reuters/Str)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    First death in China

    On January 11, China announces the first death from the coronavirus — a 61-year-old man, who had shopped at the Wuhan market, dies from complications with pneumonia. Like SARS and the common cold, scientists identified that the new virus is in the coronavirus family. It is temporarily named 2019-nCoV. Symptoms include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia.

  • Japan warning Coronavirus (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Virus reaches neighboring countries

    In the following days, countries such as Thailand and Japan begin to report cases of infections in people who had visited the same Wuhan market. In China, a second fatality is confirmed in the city. By January 20, three people have died in China and more than 200 are infected.

  • Chinese workers rush to build a hospital in Wuhan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak (AFP/STR)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Millions under lockdown

    China places Wuhan on quarantine on January 23 in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Transportation is suspended and workers attempt to quickly build a new hospital to treat infected patients, which total over 830 by January 24, as the death toll climbs to 26. Officials eventually extend the lockdown to 13 other cities, affecting at least 36 million people.

  • People wearing masks wait in the railway station in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak occured (Getty Images/X. Chu)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    A global health emergency?

    More and more cases are confirmed outside of China, including in South Korea, the US, Nepal, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. As the number of infections rises, the World Health Organization on January 23 determines that it’s “too early” to declare a global public health emergency.

  • French hospital (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Mortagne)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Coronavirus reaches Europe

    On January 24, French authorities confirm three cases of the new coronavirus within its borders, marking the disease’s first appearance in Europe. Hours later, Australia confirms four people have been infected with the respiratory virus.

  • The hospital in Munich where the first case of German coronavirus is being held in quarantine

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    First cases confirmed in Germany

    On January 27, Germany announces its first known case of the virus — a 33-year-old in Bavaria who contracted it during a workplace training with a visiting Chinese colleague. He is put under quarantine and observation at a Munich hospital. The following day, three of his colleagues are confirmed infected. The death toll in China reaches 132, with around 6,000 infected worldwide.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    WHO declares global health emergency

    On January 30, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) declares coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern in a bid to protect countries with “weaker health systems.” However, WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus does not recommend trade and travel restrictions, saying these would be “an unnecessary disruption.”

  • People buy protective masks in the Philippines

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    First death outside China

    The first death linked to the novel coronavirus outside of China is reported in the Philippines on February 2. A 44-year-old Chinese man had traveled from Wuhan to Manila before falling ill and being taken to hospital, where he later died of pneumonia.

  • The Diamond Princess berthed in Yokohama harbor (picture-alliance/dpa/kyodo)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Bad ending to a cruise

    Also on February 3, the cruise ship Diamond Princess is quarantined off Yokohama in Japan after cases of the new coronavirus were found on board. As of February 17, the number of people infected has grown to more than 450, the largest cluster of cases outside of China. Several of the 3,700 passengers and crew onboard the ship are being or have been flown back to their home countries.

  • Tourist at the Colosseum (Reuters/R. Casilli)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Italy under quarantine

    Cases in Italy rise dramatically, with 77 deaths and thousands of confirmed cases by March 3. Many countries instigate travel restrictions to northern Italy and tourist numbers plummet. On March 8, the Italian government put the entire Lombardy region into quarantine, affecting 16 million people. March 10 sees 168 fatalities in Italy, the highest in a single day.

  • People walk in front of sign showing stock markets (picture-alliance/Jiji Press/M. Taguchi)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Economic woes

    European and US stock markets slump on March 6, leading to the worst week since the 2008 financial crisis. The effect on global business has been significant, with many companies reporting losses and the tourism industry and airlines badly hit. The EU pledge €7.5 billion ($8.4 billion) on March 10 in an investment fund to try to stop the Eurozone falling into a recession.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    WHO declares outbreak as pandemic

    As worldwide cases top 127,000 and deaths pass 4,700, the World Health Organization designates the global outbreak as a “pandemic” on March 11. US President Donald Trump announces a travel restriction on people coming from the Schengen Zone in Europe, annoying the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announces that in Germany, 70% of the population could get the virus.

  • A screen in Madrid shots Spain'd Prime Minister speaking as he announces a state of emergency for 15 days on March 13 (picture-alliance/dpa/AAB. Akbulut)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Public life on hold in Europe

    On March 14, Spain joins Italy in imposing a near-total nationwide lockdown to prevent the virus spreading. The population of 46 million is told not to leave their homes unless for essential tasks. In France, cafés, restaurants and non-essential shops are closed as of March 15. Many public events in Germany are cancelled and schools close.

  • A stop sign and a plane approaching at the Washington National airport. picture-alliance/Photoshot)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    International travel severely restricted

    As of March 15, many countries impose strict travel bans or restrictions in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19. For example, New Zealand and Australia require all international passengers to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival in the country. The US extends a European travel ban to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.

  • Sign reminding pedestrians to keep a distance (picture-alliance/EibnerT. Hahn)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Germany imposes partial lockdown

    In a landmark televised address German Chancellor Angela Merkel announces far-reaching restrictions on everyday life on March 22, banning meetings between more than two people not from the same household outside of the workplace. The country has a surprisingly low death rate, a phenomenon attributed to a high level of testing, and a high number of intensive care beds.

  • COVID-19: Empty streets in London (picture-alliance/R. Pinney)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Virus strikes at top as UK locks down

    On March 23rd Britain becomes the latest country to impose restrictions on personal freedoms, with people only allowed to leave their homes in a limited number of circumstances. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is diagnosed with the viruson March 27, as well as heir to the throne Prince Charles on March 25. Meanwhile, there are complaints that not everyone is taking social distancing seriously.

  • New York hospital ship (picture-alliance/Photoshot/J. Fischer)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Grim milestone for the US

    On March 27 the US overtakes China in terms of the number of people infected, making it the country with the most cases of COVID-19. This came as President Donald Trump claimed that the nation would get back to work “pretty quickly.” At the same time, it emerged that more than 3 million Americans had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. New York is worst-hit, with a hospital ship sent to help out.

  • Palacia de Hielo being turned into a morgue (picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    Spain’s surging death toll

    Spain also overtakes China in the number of COVID-19 cases on March 30, as the government toughens the severity of its lockdown. All non-essential activities are halted. Only Italy has a higher death toll than Spain. Most affected is the capital, Madrid. With funeral services overwhelmed, officials turn the Palacio de Hielo ice skating rink into a temporary morgue.

  • USA Coronavirus (Reuters/J. Redmond)

    Coronavirus: Timeline of the global spread of COVID-19

    More than a million

    On April 2nd the Johns Hopkins University announced on Thursday that there were more than a million confirmed coronavirus cases around the world. The US is the most affected with three times the number than China, where the virus emerged in December. Over 50.000 people have died — and the outlook remains grim.

    Author: Richard Connor

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