My intention is not to say that Germany is handling the pandemic better than others, but I would like to point out a few significant differences.
I was born and raised in Germany, my mother is Bulgarian, and I spent many years living abroad. On top of that, I am engaged to an American. Coming from this background, I would like to share my observations with you.
As I watched Angela Merkel’s press conference, I noticed a few key differences to the usual White House press briefings. While I can’t say for a fact that Germany is handling the pandemic better than other countries, I do think it’s important to point out what we’re doing that seems to be working.
Here are six things that are handled differently in Germany:
1. Main parties are working together.
I don’t want to bore you with the political system in Germany, but it is necessary to point out that we have more than two parties, and therefore the government is run as a coalition of at least two parties. Next year, we will have general elections, and everybody would expect that politicians would use the pandemic to set themselves up to raise their popularity. Merkel already announced that she would not run for office next time. Two of her potential successors are part of the current government. All three of them were announcing the new measurements without attacking each other. Imagine Mitch, Nancy, and Donald doing the same thing.
2. There’s no pointing fingers.
Merkel urged governors to implement stricter measurements for weeks. She was begging the public and her colleagues to shut the country down, without much success. Today, the others gave in and realized that there is no way around locking down the country. She was asked by a journalist how it feels to be right after all. Her answer was that this is not the time to point fingers and asked everyone to continue working together.
3. They’re offering help.
Closing businesses a week before Christmas is a drastic move that creates a lot of economic pressure on retailers. When restaurants were closed a few weeks ago, there was a plan to hand out financial compensation to everyone losing business due to the lockdown. Similar offerings are planned for retail. It will be a challenge to organize all these financial aides, and it won’t be perfect, but there is a clear message behind it: “When we close your business, we will help you.”
4. They developed a Corona app.
There is an app that is used to track COVID-19 infections that everyone can voluntarily download to their phone. So far, 23 million Germans are using this app. It uses encrypted data to warn everyone who has been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. When someone gets a positive test result, they are asked to enter a QR-code—that they received from their doctor—into their app. The warning does not tell who got infected to protect the privacy of all users. There is always room for improvement, but it is already working quite well.
5. They’re not rushing the vaccine.
Most people don’t know that Pfizer developed the vaccine that is about to be used worldwide with the help of a German company called BioNTech. That being said, it is pretty surprising that the UK and the U.S. are already giving the green light to use it, while Germany is still waiting for approval. Merkel said early on that it would be essential to gain trust among the population for the vaccine. She didn’t want to make this a political issue or use it to make herself look better. It would be an understatement to say that Donald Trump handled this in a different way.
6. They’re handing out masks to the elderly.
No serious party in Germany questions the usage of facemasks; and they went one step further. Older residents are entitled to get three FFP2 masks for free.
Of course, we also have conspiracy folks in Germany, and there is a right-wing party questioning everything, but they are far from representing half of the population. What I find interesting is that the narratives used by these people are basically translations of Qanon and other U.S.-based conspiracies.
There are discussions about certain measurements, and nothing is perfect, but nobody accuses the other of willingly ruining the country. Parties find compromise when necessary and don’t heckle their opponents on TV shows.
And this is the main difference I see: I am everything but a typical voter for the Merkel party. In fact, I would never vote for them—but this is not the time to stubbornly argue across party lines.
We are all in this together. Even my friends who were skeptical of the lockdown measurements earlier on are on board now. They evolved their perspective by listening to rational arguments.
I am not saying that we are doing any better than other countries. Our numbers are pretty troubling too. But, at least, we are doing it without hating each other. We are in this together—and most of us have realized that by now.
It hurts not to celebrate Christmas with loved ones. But maybe we can put our non-attachment practice to use in this case: Christmas is just a date—let’s set ourselves the goal to celebrate with our loved ones when this is over. I am sure there will be a national—or maybe even a worldwide—holiday as a memorial to these difficult times we are living in right now.
Let’s look forward to the COVID-19 holiday that we will celebrate with friends and family every year. And until then—let’s try to be nice to each other.