Germany, the world leader in response to COVID-19, is cautiously breaking free

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The Birgit & Bier nightclub in the trendy Kreuzberg district of Berlin was no exception to the inevitable rule imposed by the coronavirus for cafes, bars and restaurants around the world: shutter and retirement.

But as Germany emerges from isolation, the nightclub has resurfaced to live another day by transforming itself into an old-fashioned beer garden.

“This is a big change for us,” said manager Yushi Jereczeh. “Now we serve table service at a distance of [1.5] meters. And guests should wear a mask, but not at the table. “

Goodbye to any order at the bar, dancing parties and conga lines. Hello to a meeting place designed for those who practice physical distance.

Germany’s strong response to the coronavirus crisis was hailed very early – a high number of infections, yes, but a much lower death rate than in other western countries.

People who relax on the terrace say they feel lucky. They praise the response of the coalition government as strong and necessary.

“I think we have a very strong and good health system here in Germany,” said Niklas, a student at Charity University in Berlin, while sitting in the beer garden.

“The best health professionals you can imagine. And we also have very good intensive care. “

Soft lock

According to a OECD studyeven before the pandemic, Germany had 33.9 intensive care beds per 100,000 population. This compares to England at 10.5, Spain at 9.7 and Italy at 8.6.

” [The German government] reacted fairly quickly compared to other countries, “said Antonia Becht, a video producer also trying out the redesigned Birgit & Bier.

“Stopping was the best thing, the best decision there could be. “

As of Friday evening, Germany had around 183,000 cases of COVID-19 and 8,500 deaths, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University. The country’s COVID-19 death rate is around 4.6% while the death rate in France is 15.4% and in Italy 14.3%, according to Johns Hopkins.

Germany’s foreclosure did not come suddenly. The measures were introduced gradually and sometimes varied from state to state.

The schools were closed on March 13, four days after the country’s first coronavirus death report. Nursing home visits were prohibited at the same time.

Dennis Debray, 29, contracted COVID-19 from a roommate in February. He was impressed with the response from the local health authorities. (Evangelo Sipsas for CBC)

“When the first corona cases appeared in Germany, we felt immediately vulnerable. We were very concerned because we are actually taking care of high-risk patients, “said Johanna Janssen, director of a private nursing home in Berlin called Mana Residence.

But there were bumps along the way, she said.

“We had to fight to get the patients tested when they got out of the hospital. That has changed in the meantime. Now, health facilities are tested in all areas. “

But for the most part, she has nothing but praise for the German government – a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union / Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party – and, in particular, for the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel .

“From the start, she was clearly positioned, she took it seriously and when she spoke, she addressed it directly to the people I found very good,” said Janssen.

At the start of the pandemic, Merkel made a rare television address in the country and highlighted the threat posed by the new coronavirus.

“It is serious,” she said on March 18. “Take it seriously too. Since German reunification, no, since World War II, there has been no challenge for our country which depends so much on our common solidarity. “

Germany has had time to strategize

One benefit to Germany that is often overlooked is that the country has simply had time to prepare, said Wolfgang Greiner, head of the faculty of economics and health management at the University of Bielefeld, in the northwest of the country.

“We were really happy not to be the first. We were looking for the Italians, ”he said.

“After looking at the photos of Italy, I think that was the key. The people were really ready to follow [government] suggestions. There weren’t so many apps needed. “

Germany’s ability to cope is also linked to the decision to put in place a test, trace and isolation system from the start, discussed by health authorities in various German states.

WATCH | How Germany is breaking out of the lockdown:

Despite a high number of COVID-19 cases, Germany had a lower mortality rate than many western countries, which praised its rapid response to the pandemic. 3:31

“We had to say [health authorities] the names of each person we [had come] in touch with, “said Berliner Dennis Debray, 29, who contracted COVID-19 from a roommate in February. He had to stay in quarantine for 14 days.

German planning also included the addition of 12,000 additional intensive care beds and the early ordering of 10,000 additional ventilators.

“Prevention paradox”

The country was in such good shape that he was able to start taking coronavirus patients from Italy and France during the crisis.

Germany slowly started to open after the foreclosure around April 20, but Germany’s success in keeping the death toll relatively low paved the way for what has been called the “prevention paradox” “

It refers to people who see how hard the country has faced and who start to feel resentful about staying in lockdowns and physical distancing or wondering if they were necessary in the first place.

A man holds up a sign saying “democracy instead of virology” as he attends a demonstration against government restrictions following the coronavirus epidemic in Stuttgart, Germany, May 16. (Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters)

There have been a number of anti-lockout protests in different German cities in recent weeks. One of the largest drew around 5,000 people to Stuttgart on May 17.

“It’s a small group, but they’re pretty noisy,” said Greiner.

“If we continue like this for a few months, let’s say, we will be more worried [about spread to] the entire population. This is something you might worry about. ”

Support for Germany’s far right party, Alternative for Germany, fell dramatically during the pandemic.

But there are fears that far-right activists will try to exploit emerging divisions, particularly in such an uncertain economic climate.

And there are growing tensions between certain German states emerging from the lock at different speeds and between certain states and the federal government.

Thuringia and Saxony say they will reject general coronavirus rules by early June, while Berlin and Bavaria say it is too early.

Support for the European Union stimulus fund

Merkel wants physical distancing measures to remain in place until at least the end of June.

His unprecedented support for a European Union stimulus fund that would help the hardest hit member states, potentially in the form of grants rather than loans, could also be controversial for some in Germany in the future. if the economy contracted more.

Melina Zachria is enjoying an evening at a Berlin nightclub that has reopened as a beer garden, but says she is worried about a second wave of coronavirus infections. (Evangelo Sipsas for CBC)

“There is a discussion, which we still have,” said Greiner. “How many Europe should we afford? “

“But there are also people, of course, who say,” Well, we will live in open markets, “and open markets are only possible with partners who can afford our goods and services. “

It may be the sun and the feeling of seeing old friends in person, but most of those interviewed at the beer garden said they would be happy to see some solidarity with the European Union.

“I think they should stay together,” said student Niklas. “In my opinion, Italy too has been very, very badly affected and has not received the appropriate support. From Germany too. “

Regarding the lockdown and the debate over whether it is relaxed too quickly or not quickly enough, many Germans say they expect a second spike in infections.

“I think there is going to be a second wave and we have to be aware. But I think we could be a little more prepared, “said Melina Zachria, German journalist at the beer garden.

Video producer Antonia Becht says it’s too early to tell.

“For the moment it’s going well and everyone is happy, everyone is going out. You see smiles under the masks. Let’s see. “

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