Germans being German about coronavirus

Other countries look to Berlin to see how it got things so right.

Germans being German about coronavirus

BERLIN — No one’s ever accused Germans of modesty.

Whether the subject is das Auto, beer or nude sunbathing, Germans take deep pride in knowing they’ve got an edge on the rest of us.

It might be time to add virus-fighting to the list.

As the world has struggled to cope with the pandemic, Germany is basking in an international glow for being the only major Western democracy to more or less get things right.

Though it has a large number of infections (about 160,000), the country’s death rate is nearly 60 percent lower than in the U.S. and 85 percent lower than in Spain. At a time when medical personnel in New York have resorted to wearing ski goggles and trash bags for protection while treating COVID-19 patients, German hospitals have been a comparatively well-equipped sea of calm (though not without certain protests). In recent days, the country has brought the pace of new infections down enough to slowly lift restrictions. It’s even planning to open up intensive care capacity to non-corona patients.

With the situation in both the U.S. and Britain getting more grotesque by the day, Merkel has to do little more than show up in order to shine.

International media have been quick to search for the secret to Germany’s corona success, especially outlets in the hard-hit U.S. and U.K. Was it the quality of German health care, the ubiquity of testing (which makes it easier to quickly isolate cases and trace infections), the fact that the infected in Germany were mostly young people? Or all of the above?

The New York Times offered its own novel theory: “The chancellor’s mixture of calm reassurance and clear-eyed realism.” The Atlantic, a U.S.-based political magazine, doubled-down on the theme: “The chancellor’s rigor in collating information, her honesty in stating what is not yet known, and her composure are paying off.”

If Angela Merkel (aka the “leader of the free world” in some circles) was the darling of the West’s left-leaning elites before corona, she may well end up enjoying Gandhi-like status by the time the droplets settle.

Her modest appearance, monotone speech and academic air have made her the perfect foil to the daily buffoonery emanating from the White House and No. 10 Downing Street.

With the situation in both the U.S. and Britain getting more grotesque by the day, Merkel has to do little more than show up in order to shine.

Back when Boris Johnson was shaking every hand in sight while preaching “herd immunity,” and Donald Trump declared coronavirus a “hoax” perpetuated by his political enemies, Merkel, the sober scientist, was urging caution and preparing for the worst.

At least that’s how the legend goes.

In truth, Merkel was caught just as off-guard as most world leaders. Her wake-up call came on March 8, when the Italian government was forced to put the wealthy northern part of the country under quarantine. Prior to that, Merkel had said almost nothing about the outbreak.

To her credit, Merkel thrives in times of crisis, especially when it comes to negotiating a consensus, whether between EU member countries or Germany’s often-fractious regions.

Nonetheless, there’s a more prosaic explanation for Germany’s low death rate and mild outbreak that has nothing to do with testing capacity, a surplus of intensive care beds or astute leadership — dumb luck.

By the time the pandemic slammed northern Italy with full force, Germany had yet to impose any restrictions on the public, in contrast to countries such as Austria and Spain.

The mere fact that Germany had ample warning made all the difference | Yann Schreiber/AFP via Getty Images

At that point, Germany had only a fraction of the cases that Italy did, however. That gave Berlin a head start of at least two weeks to prepare for (and prevent) the worst.

And that’s exactly what it did.

With graphic pictures of the crisis in Italy streaming into German homes every day, it wasn’t difficult to convince people of the gravity of the situation. In the weeks that followed, the public accepted both the unprecedented restrictions on their freedom as well as the government’s lavish emergency spending proposals without protest.

So, while the quality health care system and German efficiency may have played a role, the mere fact that Germany had ample warning — and heeded it — made all the difference.

While Germans might have a reputation abroad for arrogance, at home they’re prone to self-doubt.

That may be why most Germans aren’t bragging.

“The fact that Germany is doing better than other countries so far makes one humble, not overconfident,” Jens Spahn, the German health minister, cautioned in an interview with CNBC this month.

Much of the skepticism over Germany’s supposed exceptionalism has come from within the country itself.

While Germans might have a reputation abroad for arrogance, at home they’re prone to self-doubt. What if they’re relaxing the restrictions too early, many wonder. Or not early enough, others ask, with an eye toward the economic impact.

About the only thing most Germans seem to agree on, at least in private, is that no matter how bad things get, they’ll still be better off than the rest of us.

Source : Politico EU More   

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How to help Africa weather the coronavirus storm

Failure to help struggling countries will increase risk of re-infection in the West.

How to help Africa weather the coronavirus storm

Mark Harper, a former U.K. government chief whip and minister of state for immigration, is the MP for the Forest of Dean.

LONDON — As many of Europe’s hardest-hit countries plan their exits from strict lockdowns, we urgently need to turn our attention beyond our own borders to the rest of the world — where the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to be even more devastating.

Economically developing regions — including Africa, South Asia and the Middle East — have much larger populations than Europe and a far less developed health care system. The potential for disaster if the coronavirus goes unchecked in these regions is huge.

The pandemic has made it painfully clear that we are all interconnected. If we do not assist struggling regions by diverting our aid money to countries in need, we will suffer the consequences — including higher risks of re-infection, fewer opportunities for global trade, and the kind of trouble a resurgent Islamic State could bring to our shores.

In Africa, which has seen some 30,000 cases so far and recorded 1,400 deaths, the situation risks becoming dire. With the United Kingdom and the United States struggling to supply enough protective equipment to their own doctors, the response in countries with fewer resources, like the Central African Republic, is likely to be far less effective. The country currently has only three ventilators for a population of almost 5 million.

The potential disintegration of Africa’s social system would also have catastrophic consequences for the West.

Beyond the immediate threat to people’s health, the virus also risks setting Africa back in its fight to contain other diseases such as malaria, as well as its efforts to deal with an Islamist rebirth in the Sahel. A new health crisis could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The potential disintegration of Africa’s social system would also have catastrophic consequences for the West, which would likely see another wave of mass migration and thereby risk re-infection.

Many Western investors and companies working in Africa would also be hard-hit. American and European importers of raw African goods, investors in new technologies in some of Africa’s poorest regions, as well as tour guides, academic researchers and international development charities, could find themselves isolated from a world that wants nothing to do with a virus-riddled no-go zone.

Some lobby groups have tried to exploit this crisis by pushing for debt relief, notably the waiving of all existing third world debt. This fiscally irresponsible approach would lift the pressure on less responsible governments to run their countries prudently and legally, and reduce the incentive for investors to continue lending to Africa and Asia.

It also needlessly puts more pressure on countries like the U.K. and risks a scenario in which Western taxpayers indirectly bail out Beijing, a major lender to countries in the developing world.

Take for example, Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, which has a sustainable debt-to-GDP ratio of 28 percent. As the IMF notes, this is a long way from the kind of crisis levels that might justify writing off its debts — even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is not debt levels but the fact that, as the IMF says, “persistent structural and policy challenges continue to constrain growth.”

As the global COVID-19 crisis hits the economically developing world hard, it is of utmost importance that aid money — from the U.K. and other donor countries — is used efficiently. In 2019, the U.K. provided £15.2 billion of overseas aid, equivalent to 0.7 percent of the U.K.’s Gross National Income. This represents a 4.3 percent increase since 2018, and has to be justified wisely, especially following National Audit Office concern that only 58 percent of earmarked funds are going to the countries most in need.

Africa’s best hope may lie in Western money and resources being used to create a viable and cost-effective vaccine, as well as treatment drugs as they become available. The methods adopted in South Korea — of testing, tracing and isolating — are near impossible in a more decentralized region like sub-Saharan Africa. Intensive care equipment and ventilators are also difficult to offer at a time when even European countries suffer from a shortage.

But as our scientists and politicians work to find this crucial vaccine, it is imperative to ensure that we devise and deliver an effective aid budget for Africa and other struggling regions around the world. Personal protective equipment for frontline African medics is a must, for example, to avoid a repeat of the 192 Liberian health care worker casualties during the Ebola outbreak — particularly given the increased rarity of trained doctors and nurses.

Indifference at this hour of crisis is not an option, both with regard to the foreign humanitarian crisis, or to the domestic headache it may well become for us. It would be naive to think that what happens in Africa, stays in Africa.

Source : Politico EU More   

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