April 20, 2020
In Germany this is a special Monday morning. The federal government and the governors of the different states had a meeting last Thursday and have announced that the COVID-19 epidemic is now “manageable”, and the regulations of past weeks can be eased.
Early this morning shops and small businesses are opening again to the public. In some areas schools are opening. You may know that Angela Merkel is chancellor for the federal government, and we have governors in the different states (almost like the US). Our governors have a lot of independence, for instance schools and universities, are organized by the state, and not by federal authority. Also, all police report to the state (we have no local police). For the recovery after COVID-19 this means that the different states have different solutions for the management of the crisis. In some states, masks are the official rule, in other states they are only a recommendation. Schools are still closed in Bavaria and in the north but in Berlin and elsewhere 50% of the students return which means smaller classes and more distance. Everybody must wear a mask while in school. In some states, shops in malls will be open, in other states malls are still closed. This is like a large uncontrolled experiment. Nonetheless, it will be very important to see whether the rate new infections increases now that regulations have been relaxed. We hope that the infection rate will stay low and other measures can be eased also, and businesses such as restaurants and daycare centers can reopen.
This is an experiment which is important to help us learn for our future life and work in Maine. Germany has done well during the crisis; fewer than 4,000 people have died in association with COVID-19 of the 160,000 infected people in total. The transmission rate today is 0.7 which means that less than one person is infected by somebody carrying the disease. In Germany we are convinced that the successful management of the epidemic is due to social distancing and hygiene with widespread testing for the virus and an almost complete lockdown of the country. People were not allowed to meet in groups outside of buildings, all shops and hotels were closed, and travel even within Germany was discouraged or banned. This policy kept the number of sick patents low. Most ICU beds were not used and in most hospitals the situation is quiet. It will be very interesting to see how returning to an (almost) normal life will affect the rate of infection. We will see if the rules of distancing, hygiene and masks will be enough to keep the virus at bay.
We will learn from this experiment for our management of “life after COVID-19” at MDIBL. Not only for our behavior at work, in the labs, in the microscopy room and working with animals but also for managing visitors, courses and seminars. It is obvious that we will have to have smaller groups and that we still need to wait a while before we start again. But when it is time to “start” again, we will benefit from the experience of others.