At the end of this difficult year, the silence does not only mean pausing and contemplation, but once again withdrawal and threat. But let’s look ahead: We now see a lot of light in the dark and more ways out than abysses. 2021 will be a year of recovery and recovery. It will be difficult, but things are looking up.
Mankind could leave this global pandemic behind faster and better than the worst scenarios in the spring led to fear. And it could go far better than historical pandemics like the plague or the Spanish flu. That doesn’t make each individual fate any easier, but it shows progress overall.
A year is behind us in which we have suffered and learned a lot. There was breakdown and departure, standstill and rigidity, distance and new intimacy.
If a few billion doses of vaccine are produced and distributed by the end of 2021, many people will be able to lead a reasonably normal life again in just a few months – without fear of moving, without worrying about infecting friends or relatives. Humanity has succeeded in developing a vaccine very quickly thanks to a historically unique cooperation and ability to form alliances.
It was this willingness to cooperate that ultimately led to success. That was not in sight. In the beginning, when this pandemic took control of Europe, the barriers went down. We experienced hostility and distrust in border regions, and countries are still securing supplies of masks, disinfectants and ventilators and now vaccines, especially for their populations.
An obvious response, sometimes necessary but not always wise. Above all, however, it no longer decisively shaped this crisis, even if the borders were closed again at the end of this year and Great Britain is cordoned off (which probably came too late and is rather symbolic and has caused great damage). The most important question of all was based on cooperation from the start, and this cooperation is probably the most important lesson from this pandemic: humanity can solve problems if it cooperates. We are more successful when we share resources, ideas and results. This is not a calendar saying, but a concept that has been impressively confirmed.
There are estimates that Covid-19 will claim five million deaths by the end of 2021. That is a shocking amount, but on a historical scale less than feared: it would be 0.06 percent of the world’s population. The Spanish flu lasted 26 months and claimed between 17 and 100 million deaths (up to six percent of the population at the time – according to today’s standards, between 80 and 400 million deaths).
The social and economic follow-up costs of this crisis are gigantic. For the USA alone, they are estimated at up to 16 trillion dollars, according to an analysis by economists David Cutler and Larry Summers. This includes the loss of added value, growth losses, damage to health and premature deaths. Converted to Germany, that would be 2.6 trillion – a very rough and large number, but it reveals the work of destruction of this pandemic. Inequality has increased worldwide, the successful fight against poverty has been stopped, millions of livelihoods have been destroyed or plunged into great hardship.
The immediate recession, especially in Germany, turned out to be milder than expected. I remember a paper from the Federal Ministry of the Interior from the spring in which an “abyss” scenario was played out, a depression with a million deaths in Germany, a slump in gross domestic product (GDP) of 30 percent and a decline in industrial production by almost half .
It turned out differently – because we made sacrifices. Because despite quarrels and tormenting discussions in Germany, reason was stronger than anger, denial and irrational rejection.
According to the latest estimates, it will be more like minus five to six percent. And in the coming year an average of plus four percent. Crisis management worked all in all, bearing in mind that our societies were unprepared and there was no blueprint. The central banks have done their job confidently, numerous governments from Taiwan to New Zealand to Finland and also Germany steered their populations through the crisis, always trying to protect life without destroying too many livelihoods with this terrible consideration.
But why is this crisis so expensive? The “Financial Times” columnist Martin Wolf gave an amazingly simple answer: because these costs were possible. We have accepted this debt, the shutdown of value creation and its replacement with government programs. As a result, the debt has exploded, but the misery has been curbed.
At the end of the year, we Germans struggle above all for our determination and self-assurance. We suspect that the price in this second wave is too high in every respect, that we have lost time with the “lockdown light” – and should have used the summer better. Only for the distribution of FFP2 masks. We have to fear that this will continue for weeks.
But that is no reason to start the new year without hope. There have been annual reviews when experts looked worriedly ahead to see whether there were any risks. And a year ago we Germans sat lazily on the cushion of prosperity that we had built up in a “golden decade” and wondered how we could get some life back into the store.
Now hope prevails.