1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

A smart shutdown

December 13, 2020

Stricter measures are a rare sign of unity from Germany's federal and state governments. But the country is in for a long, hard winter, writes DW's Marcel Fürstenau.

Empty tables and chairs in the state of Saxony
Image: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/picture alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel underestimated the spread of the coronavirus. In September, media were reporting that the chancellor had warned her ruling Christian Democrats in a conference call that new infections could hit 19,000 per day by late December. There were critics who called that estimate alarmist. Now, Merkel and such skeptics alike would be almost relieved if that prognosis had come to be.

Since December 9, Germany's public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute, has reported more than 20,000 new infections per day — with a record 29,875 registered on Friday. On November 11, just over 12,000 COVID-19 deaths had been confirmed in Germany; now, nearly 22,000 people have died since the pandemic began.

Deutsche Welle Marcel Fürstenau
DW's Marcel FürstenauImage: DW

On Sunday, Germany's federal and state governments were absolutely right to agree on a series of stricter shutdown measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Anyone who is of another opinion can say that directly to the face of the self-sacrificing workers in intensive care units, elder homes and home health care — and tell them why this isn't so bad after all.

Slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Germany will require solidarity from everyone, as well as empathy for all of the people who have been directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19. Know-it-allism, dogmatism and recklessness will not help.

If negotiations about political responsibility can bring about something resembling consolation and assurance, it is because this is a moment of broad unity. In recent weeks and months, that has too rarely been the case.

Germany's pandemic winter

This is not the moment for taking petty account of who did what wrong or right when: What is most important is to learn from the mistakes of the past. People in Germany have been depleted, and they will continue to be depleted — and yet, surveys have found, their willingness to make sacrifices remains.

Politicians would be wise to reward the common sense of the vast majority with transparency and honesty. As part of this, they should thank people sooner than later for their extended sympathy and understanding as the restrictions and the strain of them go on. The idea that the situation will have improved markedly by January 10, the stated possible date for the end of the shutdown, seems dubiously optimistic.

There is a lot to suggest that this optimism will turn into disappointment. Germany's winters last into March, and vaccinations have not yet begun.

The widespread partial shutdowns since the beginning of November failed to have slowed the spread enough. That's the bitter reality. That made the harder shutdowns that were agreed to on Sunday unavoidable. Perhaps in the spring we will be able to look back and say that German leaders made the right decision on December 13, 2020. That would be ideal. But we cannot — and must not — be too sure of that now.

This commentary has been adapted from German.

Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.