By Aaron Werner
The Coronavirus epidemic has revealed how woefully unprepared for a crisis Germany is... at least compared to Singapore.
Germany’s government has been too slow to react to the coronavirus threat. As the number of confirmed cases passes 1000, with 218 new cases since Saturday, it’s becoming clearer that more could have been done to contain the epidemic, particularly when compared with places such as Singapore, Japan and Italy.
Currently, authorities are releasing advice to stop shaking hands and implement more rigorous hand washing. Advice also includes encouragement to those experiencing symptoms such as respiratory problems to remain at home and to avoid unnecessary travel. Yet, there are no travel bans and control checkpoints for the virus in travel areas, and schools, nurseries and workplaces widely remain open. Quarantines are not being enforced, those who experience symptoms and even those who have been confirmed to be carrying the virus are simply asked to self-quarantine.
It should come as little surprise that that relying on people to self-quarantine while simultaneously keeping schools and workplaces open is problematic and likely ineffective. Indeed, this raft of half measures indicates that the government is yet to truly take the threat seriously.
Schools and nurseries within Germany currently remain open, with a few isolated exceptions. The president of the German College of General Practitioners and Family Physicians (DEGAM) shared his view: “We are not prepared at all. Where are the posters on the bus stops, subway stations and advertising columns telling people to regularly wash their hands and to cough into a handkerchief or their sleeve? Why is the website of the Robert Koch Institute (Germany's Centre for Disease Control) so confusing that you can barely find any important information?”.
Compared to other countries, Germany’s response has been piecemeal and ineffective, with reports highlighting the difficult testing-process and in addition to the aforementioned lack of quarantine measures.
Japan and Italy have already implemented nationwide school closures for the time being, with Italy implementing a mass-quarantine for the entire area of Lombardy and 14 other provinces in the north, areas which include Milan and Venice. This means travel restrictions for up to 16 million people. Italy currently has 7,375 cases (as of Sunday 8 March) with over 2000 of these occurring after the school closure was put into effect. Too little, too late – but it’s not difficult to imagine Germany soon falling into this same trap.
Concerns have been raised about the lack of testing compared to other countries such as Singapore, Italy and South Korea. There are worrying reports of carriers of the virus identifying themselves as potentially infected and alerting the authorities, but then being left in the dark – i.e. either given confusing and contradictory instructions or denied testing altogether. Unlike in Singapore, China and South Korea, Germany’s medical system is decentralised, rendering it more difficult to implement nationwide measures and standards at such a short notice.
The testing process itself epitomises poor organisation, involving unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, painstaking delays and, most worryingly, potential virus carriers side-by-side in waiting rooms with others who have yet to be tested. Jens Lubbadeh, writer for Welt.de, concluded after his own personal recount of the testing process - one which involved bureaucratic hurdles and painstaking delays - that “one thing I know for certain is that you'll hardly be able to stop an epidemic like that!”
South Korea has already performed 109, 591 tests for coronavirus since the start of the outbreak. Official testing numbers for Germany have not been released, but according to the German Association of Health Insurance Physicians, there is capacity for only 12,000 tests per day and only those considered “high risk” are being tested.
Singapore has implemented strict controls, checks, testing, quarantines - seemingly managing to slow down the spread most effectively compared to other countries. An excellent healthcare system helps, of course, as does a willingness to implement drastic or even ‘draconian’ tracing and quarantine measures, using facial recognition cameras to track down those who break their quarantines. At a minimum, implementing official quarantine orders would perhaps make sense for the German government.
Singapore has also implemented special ‘Coronavirus Checkpoints’ at its airport, samples are being taken of travellers entering the country along with their personal details and contact information. The samples are then run through tests which have a turnaround time of three hours to show results, and if they tested positive they are immediately contacted and referred to a hospital.
Germans have been altogether slow to react to the scare of a pandemic, with life broadly continuing as usual for the most part. Yet, as in the UK, Hamsterkauf (panic buying) in supermarkets are symbolic of the public’s worries - in particular for products such as face masks and hand sanitizers.
There is still much unknown about the true extent of the threat in Germany, with experts unable to agree on exact figures and death toll estimations. Whether Germany will fare better than other countries remains to be seen – but it’s clear its pandemic control measures are inferior to those in
Singapore and South Korea.
What’s certain is that the coronavirus situation has already highlighted key weaknesses in Germany’s ability to effectively contain an epidemic and keeping the public adequately informed - an uneasy situation, which has done little good for neither the public’s safety nor its morale.
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