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Opinion: A sensible shutdown

Sabine Kinkartz
Sabine Kinkartz
November 2, 2020

Restaurants, bars, theaters and other amusements have been closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Many Germans say they reject the new restrictions. But they are there for a reason, DW's Sabine Kinkartz writes.

Coronavirus Lockdown at a bar in Cologne
Image: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

Many people in Germany hit bars, restaurants and gyms over weekend knowing that a partial shutdown would begin with November. This was a reckless frenzy in light of weeks of surging coronavirus infections: It would have been much more prudent to start voluntarily limiting social interactions.

Many Germans are burying their heads in the sand. They are refusing to confront the reality that we are now in a second, much more serious wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Wearing masks, regularly washing our hands, airing out rooms and keeping a safe distance will no longer suffice. Intensive care units are not yet at capacity. But nobody knows how long that will last. We are witnessing an exponential rise in infections. Regional public health departments are under such strain that they can no longer trace all chains of infection. Many people who have caught the virus and remain asymptomatic do not realize that they are contagious — which especially puts the tens of millions older and chronically ill people in Germany at risk. The health care system would have collapsed within a month if lawmakers had not intervened.

Kinkartz, Sabine
DW's Sabine Kinkartz

That is why we need more than hygiene and safety measures. The partial shutdown for the month of November is warranted. Yet many people are confused about the new restrictions. The wonder why businesses that have invested serious money into implementing hygiene measures are now being forced to shut once more.

Read more: WHO says health workers account for 10% of global coronavirus infections

Too many questions

Why must restaurants and theaters shut when schoolchildren and teachers are required to spend hours crammed into classrooms? Why are commuters still packed into buses, subways and trains? Why are nail salons forced to close but hair salons are not? And why have music schools been shut when church services remain open?

Merkel defends lockdown

Many Germans are struggling to understand the government's logic for the partial shutdown. Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to sense this. After Monday's coronavirus cabinet meeting, she told journalists that the shutdown is designed to reduce social interactions by 75%.

This figure should be a wake-up call for Germans — especially those who still refuse to acknowledge the severity of the situation. Do we really need to see footage of overcrowded emergency rooms and ICUs before each and everyone one of us realizes that the coronavirus is no ordinary pathogen that we can fight and trace with ordinary measures? When will everyone understand that we face a kind of natural disaster that simply cannot be ignored?

Cutting our social interactions by 75% will require us to rethink the way we live. November's partial lockdown may seem unfair, yet it does follow a simple logic: We are being encouraged to stay home as most of the establishments and business we enjoy visiting in our free time are shut. Only essential businesses and institutions remain open. 

Read more: In May, the World Medical Organization said Germany had 'underestimated risk to public health'

Making smart choices

Schools and kindergartens are essential under this logic because parents cannot be expected to simultaneously care for their children and work. That became abundantly clear during the shutdown in spring. We should, however, think about whether schools could reorganize teaching. More than 10 million students attend school in Germany. The risk of their catching or spreading the coronavirus is substantial. It would therefore be sensible to break up classes into small groups and to teach older pupils online. At German universities, for example, all teaching is done remotely these days.  

The truth is that Germany faces a harsh winter. We will only get through this period if we act responsibly. We will have to openly debate how we want to live during this pandemic. That includes and necessitates open parliamentary debate.the people affected must be included in this process. They must be convinced that whatever steps are being taken make sense.

The busy bars and restaurants over the weekend show that shutdown measures that are insufficiently explained to the public are ineffective. People must be made to understand that acting responsibly is essential.