Economy & Politics

Comment why the lockdown is correct

Chancellor Merkel with a protective maskimago images / phototek

Germany is facing another lockdown. Or do we not do that at all? Is it just a lockdown light? Or a mini lockdown? Or a shutdown?

I do not want to anticipate the opening debate of the annual conference of the Institute for German Language – only: With all the understandable excitement about the “second lockdown”, which of course caused the language and exchange of blows to become more heated, we should take a close look at what happened and what was decided.

No question about it, the winter will be long and hard, the Chancellor is right. The question, however, is what will make up this “hardship” in the core – the prospect of new isolation and closed restaurants or overburdened hospitals and many deaths.

Nobody can seriously claim that Germany is still “ahead of the situation” as it has been in recent months. Control of the pandemic first slipped away from us in some districts and then in large parts of Germany. A few weeks ago I also expected that we would get by with regional lockdowns and appeals for behavior change. Unfortunately it turned out differently. Our government is not reacting too quickly, but hopefully in time.

As early as the spring, Germany benefited from the fact that our country had a few weeks more time than Italy, for example. Now we just have to look to the Czech Republic, Belgium or France to see what is at stake.

The data from the first half of the year show that no other large industrialized country in Europe came through the crisis better than Germany. The recovery in the third quarter – a good eight percent compared to the previous quarter – is remarkable. There is a complicated and terrible trade-off in this crisis, between protecting life and protecting economic existence. This trade-off is reflected in the correlation between the number of deaths and the economic slump. Countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark and Lithuania performed best in the first wave. Germany also belonged to the upper quarter.

Sweden paid a higher price for human lives, but here too the economy collapsed by 8.5 percent in the first half of the year (EU average: -14.3 percent). Countries such as Italy, Spain, Great Britain and Belgium had to cope with many deaths as well as massive economic losses of over 15 or even 20 percent (you can find the graphic from the “Financial Times” here). So if you as a country take countermeasures “too early”, you are necessarily “too tough” – but if you react too late, you usually have to restrict more and for longer.

Paradigm shift in aid

For months it had been said that a new “lockdown” had to be differentiated and targeted – and that the German patchwork had to stop. The latter is the case this time, all countries are pulling along. And there is a differentiation, not all of public life is shut down, and production in the factories is not at all.

The replacement of up to 75 percent of sales for the affected companies represents a surprising paradigm shift in aid from the federal government. One can only hope that the old allegations (“too complicated, too bureaucratic”) will not reappear and that we will have to hear at the end of November that “not a cent” has arrived yet. It will get complicated, however: How can you quickly decide who is directly or indirectly affected? For a restaurant or hotel that is about to close, it is obvious. With the service providers and suppliers for the restaurant or the hotel it is getting more difficult. The retailers, who are allowed to stay open, but who suffer from the fact that the inner cities and pedestrian zones (should) empty again, will probably continue to suffer silently, wither or soon close forever.

I would like to take up another important aspect:

A crooked metaphor has entered the debate. Virologists like Christian Drosten compare the new lockdowns with a “circuit breaker”, a switch to interrupt the electrical circuit. So now parts of society and the economy are simply switched off like an electrical circuit to prevent the health system from being overloaded. Others compared the situation to a truck driver who occasionally applies the brakes when going downhill – and then lets the vehicle run again.

The picture may well apply to chains of infection. The economy is more complex and sensitive, however, and a lockdown is more like a stroke. After that, nerve cells and synapses grow again with difficulty, muscles are trained, and a lot has to be learned again. But there is permanent and irreparable damage in many places. Every new lockdown is like a new blow.

When the truck brakes, the cargo and vehicle remain intact – only the brakes wear out. If you turn the circuit off and on again with a circuit breaker, all lights will be on immediately. In the economy a lot breaks every time, and there is permanent damage.

No matter how you feel about the new restrictions, the image of a simple on / off is wrong. We should be aware of this, as it is a scenario in the room until next summer.


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