COVID-19: How Germany is Managing its Outbreak & Reacting with Disdain to Trump’s Policies

A “short time” system, which proved highly successful during the Great Recession of 2008-2012, is being used to prevent a wave of unemployment, Klaus W. Larres reports. 

On March 29 in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate is almost deserted due to restrictions on public life. (Getty/Carsten Koall/picture alliance)

By Klaus W. Larres
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

A recent work visit to Germany, where I grew up, stretched from one week to three. Those weeks coincided with the spread of the coronavirus in Germany as well as across Europe.

What I saw while there is that Germany’s population is in a state of shock and still can’t quite grasp how this sudden turnaround of their lives happened.

Only some two weeks ago, life seemed to proceed in a fairly normal way despite the looming crisis which appeared to be unreal and far away.

I’m back now at my home in the U.S. From my perspective as a scholar of history and international affairs, what is happening in Germany right now is notable both as a lesson in how to prepare for and manage a pandemic as well as a reflection of the poor state of relations between Germany and the U.S.

Escalating Infections, Low Mortality Rate

So far, there have been almost 65,000 known cases of COVID-19 in Germany, with the populous state of North Rhine Westphalia and the city of Hamburg particularly badly hit. So far just under 600 deaths in total have occurred from the virus in the country.

Compare that to Italy and Spain, for instance, which have much higher rates of infections and a devastating death rate. Recently there were almost 1,000 deaths a day in Italy and 800 in Spain that were caused by the virus (and in total almost 11,000 deaths in Italy and 7,000 in Spain so far).

This is largely due to a different vulnerability: The age structure of the populations in each country is different from the German one, especially in the most badly affected areas, such as the Lombardy and Bergamo regions in Italy. The populations there are much older.

The solid and publicly funded German health system is also credited for Germany’s relatively low death rate. There are over 28,000 intensive care beds with sufficient respirators available at German hospitals, more than in most other parts of the world.

Even so, the German government is working to increase these numbers to prepare for what the coronavirus may bring. If infections spread in Germany at the speed at which they spread in China, Italy and now Spain and France, the country’s medical system would also be overwhelmed. Face masks and protective clothing for medical staff are already running out.

Concern About Democratic Rights

German leaders have mounted a powerful drive to convince the public to adopt social-distancing rules, self-isolate at home and leave their homes only for absolutely essential reasons.

Restaurants, bars and most stores have been closed, with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies.

Some of the particularly affected regions and cities have imposed almost total lockdowns; few local authorities allow more than two people to go out together.

As everywhere, the idea is to flatten the curve and stretch out the rate of infections over a longer time span.

And as in the U.S., in the early part of the crisis, young people still gathered in parks and city centers to enjoy the warm spring weather and get together for so-called corona parties – having fun while ignoring the danger of infection when doing so.

Serious warnings from the government, accompanied by stiff fines, stopped this kind of behavior. Now, most Germans are staying at home and have started hoarding food and toilet paper.

German politicians and the public, however, remain deeply concerned about the infringement of personal freedoms and democratic rights which the lockdown and effective confinement of German citizens to their homes constitute.

In an earnest and forthright speech to the nation, Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the German people for their understanding and claimed that the current situation was the most serious crisis the German nation had faced since the end of World War II.

‘Short Time’

Similar to other affected countries, with the closing of most stores and businesses, Germany’s economy has almost ground to a standstill.

A formidable effort is being made to prevent it from collapsing. A huge state credit and subsidy program of initially over 750 billion euro (the equivalent of $834 billion) has been launched for the self-employed, small employers and large corporations. Special programs that help employees pay rent and maintain benefits have been put into place as well.

Even the partial government ownership – or effective nationalization – of many companies, such as airlines, is being considered.

A “short time” system, which proved highly successful during the Great Recession of 2008-2012, is being used to prevent a wave of unemployment.

The system allows companies to pause the employment of workers, who then get up to 67 percent of their wages paid by the state unemployment agency. Once the crisis is over, these same workers are entitled to return to their old jobs at their former salaries. Companies can ultimately get back to work quickly because they can rely on an experienced workforce and do not need to look for and train new staff.

The German public health system covers everyone, whether or not people are employed or have been laid off. A solid, state-funded social security system, despite severe cuts a few years ago, provides regular monthly subsistence payments to prevent people from going hungry or becoming homeless.

Relations Degraded

Democratic liberties and personal freedoms have been the political victims of the coronavirus crisis, and so have German-American relations.

Trump’s uncertain leadership in the crisis is viewed with disdain in Europe and no more so than in Germany. Instead of attempting to work out a common trans-Atlantic strategy of how to jointly manage and overcome the global health crisis, Trump pursues a strategy of every nation for itself.

The ban on Europeans traveling to the U.S., imposed in mid-March 2020 at short notice and without prior consultation with the European Union, further deepened the trans-Atlantic rift. Most Europeans saw it as a gesture of contempt and disdain by the Trump administration toward its closest allies.

The high point so far of mutual suspicion and mistrust came on March 15 when it became known that Trump had attempted to buy a majority stake in the German pharmaceutical company CureVac, based in Tübingen. CureVac has been working intensively on a promising vaccine against the virus.

Reliable media sources reported that the U.S. president dangled a price tag of $1 billion of taxpayer money to CureVac’s Boston-based CEO Dan Manichelli during a meeting at the White House between Trump and pharmaceutical executives. The Trump administration also tried to lure CureVac scientists to move their research to the U.S.

The German newspaper Die Welt quoted a German government source saying that the Trump administration was busy trying to obtain a vaccine but only for the United States.”

A German Economy Ministry spokesperson even referred to a German law where the government can investigate takeover bids from non-EU countries “if national or European security interests are at stake.” Berlin clearly felt that Trump was undermining German and European security with his overtures to CureVac.

The coronavirus is proving to be devastating to the health and democratic rights of many people around the world. It may also prove destructive of U.S.-German relations – though Germany still longs for American solidarity, leadership and constructive cooperation in a pandemic that is threatening everyone.

Klaus W. Larres, Richard M. Krasno distinguished professor; adjunct professor of the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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15 comments for “COVID-19: How Germany is Managing its Outbreak & Reacting with Disdain to Trump’s Policies

  1. RT Happe
    April 4, 2020 at 07:52

    “The German public health system covers everyone, whether or not people are employed or have been laid off.”

    That statement is somewhat misleading. The self-employed and unregistered unemployed persons who skipped health insurance before it became mandatory in 2009 won’t find it magically more affordable now than back then. While the number of people without health insurance has dropped since 2007 according to sample census data, I’d guess from anecdotal evidence that self-employed persons with little or unsteady income are still typically un- or underinsured. (The official sample census 2015, i.e. the last, counts about one per mill inhabitants without health insurance. The sample census covers the resident population of Germany, excluding the homeless and some special groups such as foreign armed forces. The census results are presented by the Gesundheitsberichterstattung des Bundes, cf in the web.)

  2. Sam F
    April 1, 2020 at 18:36

    The low CV death rate of Germany and China seems to reflect cultures of greater self-discipline and mutual expectation than the US and UK. Also greater productivity, moral expectation, and expectation of public service from public servants. Not matters of concern to the political gangsters who run the US. As the US government is nothing more than a protection racket, only a few remnants within it would not be disdained as much as Trump’s “uncertain leadership.”

  3. Lily
    April 1, 2020 at 17:09

    Perhaps it should be mentioned that we are unable to get masks here in Germany because Frau Merkel refused to accept any help from China for political reasons.

  4. April 1, 2020 at 16:47

    Although we may consider Trump’s America first and to hell with everybody else (except Israel), in practice it follows the pattern that seemed to accelerate with the collapse of the USSR. Whatever the USSR’s shortcomings, it served a a brake on such behavior and our nation has become increasingly lawless and self-centered since then.

    We can look back and see how it all unfolded. With Glasnost, there was talk of a peace dividend. But it was short lived when we saw ourselves as not only the preeminent world power but the indispensable nation.

    And then we became a fearful nation on top of the world but easily frightened by anthrax, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, Russia, China and now a dreaded virus. We are paranoid about our enemies, out to destroy us. We spend huge amounts to keep our perch but it never seems enough.

    President Trump is just the kind of man produced by such an insecure nation and he fairly represents what we have become.

    • Sam F
      April 2, 2020 at 20:13

      Yes, although we were frightened after WWII without any actual aggression, as the faraway USSR had merely taken control of the E European countries through which it had been attacked. Fear of the USSR and communism was manufactured here by tyrants who needed a foreign enemy to pose as protectors, and the rich who feared that increased popularity of communism here would reduce them to equality.

      That need for fear and a foreign enemy did not go away when the USSR dissolved; but the tyrants needed new fake threats. The mass media have taught pretended fearing as an entertainment and marketing, nearly all of its objects completely invented, and the rest without any adequate factual basis. Apparently they cannot do that with a slow-acting, invisible, and non-hate-filled virus.

      Our presence in the Mideast and C Asia appears to have no purpose but to get zionist bribes to political campaigns, but that was sufficient to give new targets to the fake defenders. The balance of the targets appear to be socialist democracies, still useful objects to get campaign bribes from the rich.

      Perhaps the UN should swamp US political campaign funding to restore sanity.

  5. Seamus Padraig
    April 1, 2020 at 16:11

    Instead of attempting to work out a common trans-Atlantic strategy of how to jointly manage and overcome the global health crisis, Trump pursues a strategy of every nation for itself.

    It seems that “every nation for itself” perfectly describes the EU response to COVID-19, too. I have lived in Germany since 2007, and while the German government may be doing an OK job at taking care of its own, the Italians have complained bitterly about the lack of help coming from other EU members states.

    It wasn’t long ago, in fact, that www (dot) express (dot) co (dot) uk/news/world/1252077/eu-news-coronavirus-france-germany-italy-coronavirus-outbreak-uk” rel=”nofollow ugc”

    France and Germany were still blocking the export of medical supplies to Italy and Spain, forcing the latter two countries to turn to Russia and China for help. Meanwhile, plague or no plague,

    www (dot) straitstimes (dot) com/world/europe/coronavirus-hard-hit-italy-and-frugal-germany-lock-horns-as-eu-wrangles-over-cash” rel=”nofollow ugc” austerity will remain in force.

    So far, outside of Italy, this Corona virus hasn’t really killed many people at all. But it may kill the European Union.

    • Lily
      April 2, 2020 at 04:22

      The health system in Germany may be better than that in other countries but it is nothing similar to what it used to be before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Up to 1989 it had been perfect for the sole reason to demonstrate that the western capialist system is better than the socialist system of East Germany. Since then it has declined to a point where informed citizens are trying to avoid being hospitalized because of the danger of infections.

      Before the reunification of Gemany all hospitals were either connected to State Universities, owned and led by the government or their communities. (There have always been private clinics as well and all hospitals used to have common and private wards).

      The huge decline started together with the neoliberal privatisation. All common hospitals are now owned by big companies. Profits have become more important than patients. Often they are short of medical and sanitary stuff. Most hospitals have become carriers of special hospital germs leading to dangerous infections with lifelong damages. Each year 20.000 patients die from clinical infections.

      A big company called the Bertelsmann – Stiftung, which has a huge influence on Chancellor Merkel was just planning to cut the amount of hospitals in half when the Corona pandemia started. Germany was not prepared at all. For too long the Covid-19-Pandemia was mistaken as a special Chinese desease. When people first became ill in the north of Italy because of her business connections with China the Italian govenment desperately pleaded for help. But neither Frau Merkel nor the EU were prepared to help. Finally and luckily China and Russia came to the rescue. Our Chancellor also refused the kind offer of the Chinese government to send medical equipment to Germany solely for political reaons. Until this day Geman citizens and doctors are unable to buy masks and other items for protection. People have started to sow there own masks from old cotton shirts.

      This may well be the end of the EU.

  6. Josep
    April 1, 2020 at 15:11

    The ban on Europeans traveling to the U.S., imposed in mid-March 2020 at short notice and without prior consultation with the European Union, further deepened the trans-Atlantic rift. Most Europeans saw it as a gesture of contempt and disdain by the Trump administration toward its closest allies.

    At first this ban only applied to continental Europe; the UK and Ireland weren’t covered. This was seen as having political motivations, as the UK, being a Five-Eyes member, had a leader who was relatively soft on Trump. Eventually Trump extended the ban to include the UK and Ireland.

    It turns out that “Europe” only refers to people who have been in Schengen zone nations, and it doesn’t apply to goods at all. The U.K. was exempted, which makes the targeting of the ban seem driven by political bias more than anything else. That was not lost on European leaders:

    “Many policymakers said Thursday that the fact that the travel ban excludes Britain, where coronavirus is already spreading, but which is led by a populist leader who has sought to build ties to Trump, was a sign that the ban was political rather than driven by science.”

  7. Matthias
    April 1, 2020 at 13:40

    The curevac-story is a fake

    politico (dot) eu/article/trump-coronavirus-vaccine-germany-curevac/

    • Marko
      April 1, 2020 at 22:31

      “The curevac-story is a fake”

      Hardly , judging from the very article you linked :

      “German pharmaceutical company CureVac insists it did not receive any offer from U.S. President Donald Trump to secure exclusive rights to a potential coronavirus vaccine, despite the German government and the company’s main investor saying it did.

      CureVac deputy CEO Franz-Werner Haas said on Tuesday “there was and is no offer” from Trump “or any governmental organizations” to take over the company or “to have manufacturing slots reserved” for exclusive vaccine production for the U.S. market.

      The Tübingen-based company on Sunday and Monday rejected reports that Trump had attempted to snatch up exclusive rights to the firm’s coronavirus vaccine, which is currently being developed in cooperation with a taxpayer-funded German institute.

      But Haas, in a one-hour news conference carried out by telephone, failed to explain why senior German ministers had confirmed — and strongly condemned — such a bid, and why even the company’s main investor, Dietmar Hopp, said Monday that he had been informed about a U.S. offer which he then rejected.

      Hopp said in a Sport1 interview that “it is not possible that a German company develops the vaccine and that it is used exclusively in the U.S. That was not an option for me.” He added, “[Trump] spoke to the company and they immediately told me and asked me what I thought about it, and I knew immediately that this was out of the question.”

      Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Monday that the German government “has dealt very early on” with Trump’s reported takeover attempt. She said, in reference to Hopp’s statement, that the issue had now been “resolved……”

      So , the only thing this article clearly rejects is any claim that Trump put a specific bid on the company. He clearly had interest , and was roundly and rightfully rejected.

  8. dfnslblty
    April 1, 2020 at 12:33

    Thankyou for a unique external perspective, Professor.
    One important issue to me is the similarity of initial reäctions between DE and US.
    Keep writing.

  9. Jeff Harrison
    April 1, 2020 at 12:06

    It is only now that the Europeans realize that they have put their faith in a false god. The United States never had European interests at heart. As long as there was some existential fear US and European appeared to be aligned. With the advent of sanctions tho’ the US’s naked pursuit of its own self interest is on full display.

    • Lily
      April 2, 2020 at 05:24

      There are quite a lot of Germans who would prefer a better relationship with Russia and many German companies are working in and with Russia. The economic connections were and still are stronger and better than the Politicians and the Mainstream Media would prefer them to be. Last not least many Germans wish for better relations to Russia because they are unable to regard the Russians as there enemies.

      On the contrary what many Germans fear most are the overmilitarized Americans and their military bases in this country. But we are still an occupied country. Occupied by the Americans since the end of WWII. Merkel is an ardent American vassal. Our government and the main media are always talking about Russia being the enemy and preparing to attack Gemany. Defender 20 was Amarican propaganda and a sure sign of American aggression more than anything else. So is the spreading of the EU towards the East contrary to the arrangement with Michael Gorbatchew who agreed to the reunification under the condition that there would be no NATO in the eastern part.

      There is really nothing to defend as the Russians would never attack Gemany. They never have. On the contrary they offered peaceful relations again and again. But unfortunately most of the people trust their government. The MSM is the state’s media read, seen and listened to by most Germans who trust their “Mutti”.

      Putin is a great hope. May he be the President of Russia for a long time.

    • OlyaPola
      April 2, 2020 at 10:17

      “the Europeans realize that they have put their faith in a false god.”

      The conflation of some with all is a necessary myth underpinning “nationalism”, a myth to which not all would subscribe.

      The accomodation based on perceived mutual interest and/or lack of alternative of sections of the self-designated “elites” was the basis of “The Cold War”, NATO etc., not “faith in a false god” or “faith in a special relationship”, which like all faith is best left to “lesser beings”, since another observation often displayed was and continues to be “There is little honour and/or naivety between thieves”.

      Even the participants in the Imperial General Staff meeting in London in March 1943, 1 month after the “Axis forces”, perhaps not yet designated axis of evil, surrendered at Stalingrad, realised that “the United States of America’s naked pursuit of its own self-interest was on display”, previously being illustrated by “financing” the Kaiserreich, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich, lend-lease, and subsequently by “The Marshall Plan”.

      Some of the self-described European” elite” increasingly perceive mutual interest and/or lack of alternative in respect of “The United States of America” are increasingly decreasing but are pondering how and where they can find a “safe haven”.

    • OlyaPola
      April 3, 2020 at 04:18

      Re Lily
      April 2, 2020 at 05:24

      “So is the spreading of the EU towards the East contrary to the arrangement with Michael Gorbatchew who agreed to the reunification under the condition that there would be no NATO in the eastern part.”

      Like many Mr. Gorbachov and others never understood and/or wanted to believe “What is “the United States of America” and how is it facilitated?” despite being advised of the likely outcomes of his naivety by others who had realised from the 1970’s onwards that “The Soviet Union” was neither reformable nor sustainable, that it would implode and in such scenario opponents would seek to control and dismenber the remains.

      They also understood that a vector of both implosion and subsequent dismemberment would be “nationalism”, including but not restricted to the “Near Abroad”, which in conjunction with the attempts at military suppression at the Vilnius TV station informed Mr. Gorbachov and Mr. Schevernadze’s positions during the negotiations at Zonikai airbase near Siauliai which recognised the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

      The opponents have constantly sought to conflate the Soviet Union with the Russian Federation and project/superimpose their own methods and purposes onto these two entities.

      However such attempts by the opponent have never been viewed by some as unalloyed disadvantages but rather as akin to Pandora boxes of opportunity not to be emulated.

      This comment is in part an extension of
      April 2, 2020 at 10:17


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