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The Second Wave: Summer Travels Bring Rising Coronavirus Numbers to Germany

  • August 05, 2020

Whatever the case, a reliably tested vaccine will certainly not be available in time to prevent a second wave this year. And if such a wave does arrive, it will have extremely negative effects on the economy, with bankruptcies and millions of unemployed. In early June, the Organization for Econonic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecast that in the event of a second wave, global economic output would fall an additional 2 percentage points.

Still, despite the catastrophic state of the U.S. export market, the mood in German companies remains rather optimistic. Timo Wollmershäuser, a senior economist at the ifo institute in Munich, spoke recently of a “surprisingly positive development.” In May, he forecast that the economy would shrink by 6.7 percent this year. Now, he believes the contraction will amount to just 5.1 percent.

Sufficient Resources

Government economists are also less alarmed than they were not long ago. If the second wave remains limited to individual regions and economic sectors, they believe that additional economic stimulus packages won’t be necessary. And even if a second lockdown becomes unexpectedly necessary, officials believe they are prepared. The country has, to be sure, taken on more debt in recent weeks than ever before. But Germany’s sovereign debt load still remains far below the record highs seen during the financial crisis. The message from several ministries in Berlin is that if it gets bad again, Germany still has sufficient resources.

In addition, many companies have now learned how to keep the virus at bay. The Bavarian auto parts supplier Wabasto – the site of the earliest coronavirus infection in the country – provides a good example for how it can be done. The company’s coronavirus taskforce has been meeting regularly since late January, when a Chinese employee infected a colleague who works at company headquarters.

The company quickly drew up lists of all employees who had come into contact with the Chinese employee and with Germany’s Patient Zero. A testing room was set up where health authorities could take swabs from all those on the lists.

Even before the infection chain was broken at the company, the taskforce had assembled a handbook, which they then shared with other companies via the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA). “Essentially, our prevention strategy still follows this same pattern,” says Webasto CEO Holger Engelmann. As soon as a case is found among the company’s 14,000 employees around the world, his or her contacts are immediately identified.

The most recent taskforce meeting took place last Wednesday. Its focus was on how to deal with people returning from vacation. Webasto opted for stringent measures, requiring those who had traveled to risk areas to either provide a negative test result or work from home. “We are continuing to remain true to our cautious strategy,” Engelmann says.

“Hemming and Hawing”

By contrast, consistency is not a feature that has been displayed by politicians in Berlin. It still seems as though decisions are rather haphazard and largely dependent on the direction the current political winds are blowing. There doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive plan for a second wave.

“I find this hemming and hawing from (Health Minister) Spahn to be unacceptable,” says Thuringia Governor Bodo Ramelow. “The back-and-forth only serves to unsettle the populace.” Yet the state capitals also haven’t produced any strategies that go beyond the next couple of weeks.

The applecart of apathy has only really been upset by SPD health expert Lauterbach, who believes stubborn adherence to the instruments currently in place is negligent and is demanding that health authorities radically change course. Instead of tracing all the contacts of each individual infected person, he believes health authorities should concentrate on so-called super-spreaders. In contrast to the study from Vienna, he believes that banning large events is crucial.

Nobody knows the entire truth about the novel coronavirus. But there have been mistakes and oversights that can hardly be excused. One example is the Corona-Warn-App, that has been downloaded by 16 million people. In comments to the Committee on Internal Affairs in German parliament, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in June that he was “quite satisfied” with the app, calling it a “great achievement” from the developers at SAP and Telekom and from ministry employees. But is that true?

Just over a week ago, though, Spahn released a joint statement with the app developers admitting that “the app doesn’t work on all mobile devices without limitations.” In order to ensure receipt of all current warnings, Telekom and SAP recommend “opening the app once a day to be on the safe side.”

A lot, in other words, is being expected of the users: They must voluntarily download it, they must check it each day, and should they become infected, they must report the positive test result within the app, which isn’t very easy. Many of those who have tested positive still have to call a “verification hotline,” where they have to answer a series of questions to prove that they did indeed test positive and aren’t just trolls. The hotline registers between 700 and 2,500 calls per day.

Where’s Merkel?

The hotline is necessary because not all test laboratories are digitally connected and many medical practices, health agencies and labs don’t have the necessary documentation. Those app users who want to skip the hotline, after all, need a form that includes a QR-code in order to register their positive test within the app. Indeed, thanks to the app, two new forms have been introduced to the world of bureaucracy – the 10C for practices and the OEGD for government agencies. Unfortunately, some printing offices have been unable to keep up with demand and deliveries have been slow as well.

And then there is the question as to what the German chancellor is actually up to these days. It is known that she is currently on vacation, but even before she left, she had begun keeping a low profile when it comes to managing the pandemic. Though she was quite active in the early days of the crisis, Merkel seemed to take a significant step back once several governors began expressing criticism of the rigorous course she had charted.

Most recently, she has only seemed to be interested in the European aspects of the crisis. She has largely left domestic policy to others and has stopped holding conferences with state governors. The corona cabinet, a group of select ministers that used to meet twice a week under her leadership, is no longer holding meetings, though it may resume sessions following the summer break.

And that could be an important signal to the country when it comes to corona policy. After all, the study from Vienna clearly highlighted one of the most important weapons in the coronavirus toolbox: communication.

Icon: Der Spiegel

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