In spring, Germans adapted quite quickly to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing became the norm, and lawmakers took decisive action to contain the outbreak. Many Germans began working remotely, commuting by bicycle and spending more time at home. Many of us were shocked by footage of Italian and Spanish hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus patients and reports of growing death tolls abroad. We were appalled by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's indifference toward the virus. And even more so by US President Donald Trump's inaction.
We were glad to have Angela Merkel in charge. We were confident that the lockdown would be lifted in time for summer. Our feeling was that we had weathered this crisis better than other countries — though nearly 10,000 Germans have died from COVID-19 so far. Still, the spring lockdown had brought out in many an irrational fear, the proverbial German angst, that led to the stockpiling of toilet paper and other items.
Now, with infections surging, our sense of ease has vanished. We are grasping that the virus, and the concomitant public health crisis, are here to stay. We are understanding the significance of coronavirus incidence rates. We are witnessing state-level lawmakers hastily banning hotels from accommodating Germans from coronavirus hot spots — even though some courts have already ruled this practice unlawful. Most Germans are wearing masks when required; they would probably, if asked, also don them outdoors. And we are witnessing Merkel grow exasperated with state premiers who unilaterally impose coronavirus measures.
A few months ago, many were extolling the virtues of Germany's health care system and praising the country's level-headed lawmakers and scientists. But, almost overnight, with coronavirus cases rising, this confidence and optimism has given away to deep-rooted fear. Sure, German infection rates remain relatively low compared with those in France and elsewhere. But a second coronavirus wave is now certainly upon us.
Lawmakers are desperate to avoid a second set of shutdowns to minimize the strain on the economy and cultural sector. Instead, they are urging us all to act responsibly. Yet how realistic is this appeal? There were many parties this summer in major German cities that made a mockery of social distancing rules. And few of them were broken up.
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Most Germans are fine with wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance and practicing good hygiene to help keep to pandemic in check. But glaring inconsistencies are becoming apparent in Germany's approach to the crisis. Why is it — some ask — that it is almost impossible to visit a terminally ill family member in hospital, while some of Germany's top tier football matches are being played with fans in attendance? Why are all citizens from coronavirus hot spots banned from staying in hotels in certain federal states, when the police cannot even disband parties with hundreds of revelers?
Alas, none of these complaints lead anywhere. We have no choice. Lawmakers have tried various strategies, made mistakes, opted for a decentralized approach and then backpedaled somewhat.
It is on each of us to act responsibly. By now, we know quite well what we should and should not do. So here we go: wave No. 2.
This article was translated from German by Benjamin Restle.