Over the weekend, the number of people tested positive for Covid-19 in Germany doubled. But this is only a rough estimate, the dark figure is likely to be much higher. Because contrary to the full-bodied pronouncements and the continuous self-affirmation that one is well prepared, reality rather shows a frightening mixture of incompetence and repression. This could well be based on a cynical calculation in which the threat to human life is in direct conflict with the interests of the economy. Because anyone who closes kindergartens for Covid diseases would also have to close factory halls and office towers.
“We must consistently interrupt the chains of infection” – this is the guideline of the Robert Koch Institute, which Interior Minister Horst Seehofer prayed like a Mantra into the microphones in recent days. That is the theory. In practice, it sounds more like this:” we can’t test into the blue, but we don’t have the capacity in Germany, " said the district administrator of the particularly affected district of Heinsberg last Friday. Heinsberg has reacted and revised his own strategy – it is now recommended that the immediate contact persons of the sufferers “intensively observe themselves”; without symptoms no Test and no quarantine, knowing that symptom-free patients also spread the Virus. Outside of the press conferences, there has long been no talk of a “consequent interruption of the infection chains”. And this is by far not only true for Heinsberg.
For example, anyone who counts himself among the concrete risk persons and wants to be tested for the Virus with or without symptoms is currently running into a wall of incompetence and confusion among authorities in Germany. The student Rebekka Berthold, who has returned from northern Italy, has vividly described her desperate struggle for a Test on Facebook. A similar situation happened to a Berlin emergency medical technician whose desperate desire for a Test was reported by the Tagesspiegel. Individual cases? No, quite the opposite. In a friendly way, one could say that the “test lust” of the German authorities is rather limited and that there are hardly any possibilities and capacities to carry out these Tests anyway. If you don’t measure, you don’t get infected numbers and don’t have to get upset. Don’t panic!
Even family doctors now run storm and feel overwhelmed with the Problem and left alone. The situation in the clinics seems to be even more dramatic; here one is prepared at best for a few isolated cases. However, this will not be enough in a few weeks and at the latest when a larger part of the staff fails due to illness, the Situation threatens to completely overturn.
Coincidence? Negligence? Incompetence? That may be, although it is difficult to believe in it. After all, the epidemic does not come as a surprise and it is not the case that the German authorities have not prepared themselves for similar scenarios in simulation games in the past. Rather, it looks as if one is afraid of having to give the “right” answers to the questions in the room.
A look at China and especially the particularly affected province of Hubei shows what a consistent response to the epidemic could look like. There, entire cities and regions have been rigorously sealed off and the chains of infections have been stopped where they are most likely to occur – and this is not at sporting events, but at work and The Associated path to work. This goes so far in China that the declining pollutant emissions caused by the shut-down factories are already visible on satellite images. Can you imagine the VW plant in Wolfsburg or the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt sending all their employees home for two or three months? This would be necessary if one really wanted to interrupt the infectious chains and thus the epidemic consistently.
What scale are we talking about? The virologist Christian Drosten, who is not prone to alarmism, now assumes that 60 to 70 percent of the German population could be infected with the new Coronavirus. If this were to be transferred to the official death rates of the World Health Organization and the Robert Koch Institute (i.e. 1.0 to 2.0 percent), it would result in 480,000 to 1,120,000 million deaths. This estimate may be a little too high. But even assuming a significantly lower death rate of 0.5 percent, we are still talking about 240,000 to 280,000 human lives. To put this figure into perspective: what efforts, costs and restrictions of fundamental rights were worth to politics a double-digit number of victims of Islamist terrorist attacks? Before this comparison, the current disinterest seems almost disturbing.
Why is it? Is it perhaps due to the fact that the majority of potential victims will apparently belong to the circle of the elderly and the sick? Yes, this question is cynical. Those who find it too cynical should ask themselves the question whether politics would perhaps sit back so calmly with the concrete threat of more than 200,000 children’s lives. Hardly. Or is it because the epidemic can no longer be stopped anyway? This is true, but any serious epidemiologist at the moment is emphatically pointing out how important it would be to gain time. Time that can be used, for example, to develop drugs or even vaccines; time that may even lead to a massive decrease in virulence in the warm spring and summer months and, in the best case, also to a decrease in death rates. But that would only be possible if one acts quickly and consistently and faithfully RKI and Seehofer consistently interrupts the infection chains … and exactly this does not take place. It is not (yet) a question of closing the VW plant in Wolfsburg or even the Deutsche Bank; but if the German state does not even consider it necessary or possible to provide proper care for a four-to five - digit number of direct contact persons from the environment of the infected, any further debate is actually superfluous. Politics has capitulated. The question of " why " remains.
And this question is obviously a – perhaps cynical-sounding-consideration: what is more important socially? Production figures and the economic situation or the potential victims of human lives?
What would happen in concrete terms if Germany – more or less along the lines of China-were to take a consistent approach? Then not only would large events like the Leipzig Book Fair have to be banned for a few weeks to months, following the example of Switzerland or France, but one would generally have to prevent gatherings of people as much as possible. In Beijing – which is about as far away from the Covid-19 Cluster in Wuhan as Berlin is from the Covid-19 Cluster in Lombardy-for example, even during the actual “Rush Hour”, the subways have been almost deserted for more than a month; the Beijing people work as best they can from home, and delivery services have largely replaced supermarket shopping. On the streets and in the Parks, emptiness Reigns. These are not cosmetic measures, such as closing a daycare center or canceling a trade fair. This is more about the core of economic life.
If the consistent answer to the open questions looks like this, one must state, for better or worse, that it is not compatible with the neoliberal economic system of the West. Our neoliberal policy is not prepared in any way for an epidemic and this is probably also because there is no satisfactory “system-immanent” answer to the Virus.
“Parts of my answer could unsettle you” – this is a notorious quote by the former federal minister of the interior de Maizière on the terrorist attacks in 2015 outside the Stade de France. It is to be feared that not only parts, but above all the case numbers for the Coronavirus could in fact unsettle people. So you play it down and on time. At some point, the tickers will disappear, the number of infected people will first climb five and then six digit digits, and since “only” every hundredth to two hundredth dies of the Virus, soon only an uncomfortable statistical noise will remain. A few less old and sick people and where the deadly pneumonia came from, nobody knows for sure anyway … these are just collateral damage in our wonderful neoliberal System. Keep Calm and Carry on.