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Coronavirus: Public life in Germany dwindles

Coronavirus begins shutting down public life across Germany. With Italy as a warning of what could come, large events in Germany have been canceled.

Many who can work do so from home.

In recent news, experts say public life must be curbed further for Germany to stand a chance of slowing the virus and avoid new infections.

Italy has taken the unprecedented step of placing the entire country of 60 million people under quarantine hence limiting movement and shutting down public spaces for at least three weeks.

Major events have been cancelled, schools are shut nationwide, and all nonessential shops are to closed, with people only authorized to move around for work or health needs.

Several European countries have begun to follow suit: Norway, Lithuania, Ireland and Austria have closed most schools. The list of closings is changing by the hour.

The British singer James Blunt performed in Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie on Wednesday evening in front of empty seats. In view of the current situation, bosses decided to let the concert take place without spectators. However, it was broadcast as a livestream free of charge on the Internet.

On Thursday Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, (CDU) announced its scheduled conference would be postponed and not take place on April 25th as planned due to the coronavirus outbreak. It throws the race for a new party leader into uncertainty.

Meanwhile, several German states, including North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous and the worst-hit coronavirus region in Germany, announced that events with more than 1,000 participants would be cancelled due to the crisis.

Germany, which after Italy, France and Spain has the largest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, hasn’t resorted to such drastic measures — yet. But a global survey conducted by research firm Ipsos already in late February showed that 62% of Germans would support quarantine measures, should they be deemed necessary.

These sweeping efforts to contain the virus came after an initial reluctance by some governments to significantly disrupt public life and, subsequently, destabilize their economies and cause panic.

As recently as March 3, when the number of cases in Spain was already at around 200, the Health Ministry was stressing that there was still “not a great deal of transmission at the national level.” By March 12, confirmed cases rose to nearly 3,000.

The slow response is reminiscent of how authorities in Germany, the UK and France initially restricted reporting during the 1918 flu pandemic, fearing it would lower morale as troops were still fighting World War I.

Even Spain, which first reported cases of the flu — leading to it erroneously being dubbed the “Spanish flu” — at first “hesitated because they knew it would have a negative impact on the economy, especially the growing tourist industry,” said Svenn-Erik Mamelund, a research professor at Oslo Metropolitan University in Norway, who has studied the social impact of epidemics.

Increasingly in Germany, businesses have been encouraging employees to stay away from the office, with a recent poll of more than 700 Germans by business consultancy Strategy& showing that 38% of respondents wanted to work from home. A third said they would avoid meetings, trade fairs and major events in the coming weeks.

In recent days, Health Minister Jens Spahn recommended that large public events be postponed or canceled, and nearly all of Germany’s 16 states have now prohibited all gatherings with more than 1,000 people until at least April.

“We now know that we are in the current phase of the pandemic where we have to practically cut off all social contacts if we want to have any chance of keeping the number of infected people as low as possible,” said Patrick Larscheid, a public health officer in Berlin as interviewed by DW.

He called on officials in Berlin to take more decisive steps to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Public life must be temporarily restricted as much as possible to protect the larger population.

The Maxim Gorky Theatre is closing its large stage while the Friedrichstadt Palace has also cancelled performances.

Berlin’s famous Berghain nightclub also announced on Wednesday that it was closing its doors until April 20th. Other clubs may also cancel events; however, bosses have raised fears over how they will keep business afloat. 

On Wednesday it was announced that the Myfest or May Day Festival would be cancelled as well as the Karneval der Kulturen on May 31st, signalling that disruption could last a lot longer.

North Rhine-Westphalia reportedly has an emergency plan which says that students who cannot do their Abitur exam due to quarantine regulations will have to take the exams on another assigned date.

In addition, teachers should provide teaching material, for example digitally or by post, to ensure a fair examination procedure.

Meanwhile, across Germany various school trips and class trips are being cancelled until at least after the Easter holidays in April.