Germany leads the way out of Lockdown with a Coronavirus Riot
22 June 2020
We all know that Germany is the most important State in Europe, the economy is the fourth largest in the world, making up 28 percent of the GDP of the EU. It may not storehouse much ‘soft power’ when it comes to cultural markers like music, films and books, that being overwhelmingly American, it still makes the important political decisions for the rest of Europe.
Until recently Germany had a good coronavirus response in comparison to many of its neighbours:
Deaths per Hundred Thousand
Belgium 84.9 France 44.2 Germany 10.7 Hungary 5.8
UK 64.1 Holland 35.3 Denmark 10.3 Slovenia 5.3
Spain 60.6 Ireland 35.3 Austria 7.8 Estonia 5.2
Italy 57.3 Luxemburg 18.1 Romania 7.7 Poland 3.5
Sweden 49.6 Portugal 14.9 Finland 5.9 Greece 2.6
You could say that Germany was better prepared to deal with the coronavirus emergency because of its industry and science. Being better prepared is one thing staying the course over a length of time is another thing altogether. The wish to get free of the universal lockdown as fast as possible is a good rough and ready measure of the spirit of capitalism prevalent in any given country. Our reader may recall that sociologists used to speak of the genesis of capitalism in terms of the culture and values of the nation or region in terms of a commercial spirit of capitalism, it was argued that the original spirit of capitalism was for the most part a Protestant sort of business, it was pointed out that barring a couple of the Italian city States, capitalism in Europe was really of Protestant beginnings. It used to be said that the economic division in Ireland between the North and South was just one more proof of the Protestant/commerce thesis.
Things have of course changed over the Century, there are no longer pure Catholic and Protestant capitalist economies, the Catholic countries have all been converted, not so much to Protestantism as to the spirit of secular capitalism, the nominally Catholic South of Ireland is performing better than the nominally Protestant North in respect of commercial matters. The government in the South of Ireland is one of those eager commercial starters after a three months lockdown, even the pubs and restaurants are scheduled for an early opening, well ahead of the commerce loving Brits.
Germany has been a very early starter from out of the commercial lockdown, in fact the German government authorised the start of the process earlier than most other European governments, and businesses began to open up about a month ago. The German government has been pretty crafty about how it went about ending the commercial lockdown, it has handed over the responsibility for decision making to several regional and local political authorities, this way if something went wrong the central government could dodge taking most of the blame. After about a month or so of ‘freedom’ things have started to go wrong, the Robert Koch Institute has just reported that the reproduction (R) number for Germany is now around R2.88, in theory any number about R1 is bad, meaning exponential growth is now occurring.
Two news stories from Germany have caught my attention, officials in North Rhine Westphalia forced 6,500 employees and their families to go into quarantine after more than 1,000 staff at German meat processing firm Toennies tested positive for coronavirus. Infection spreading into meat and food processing plants is something of a regular occurrence, not just in Germany. The corollary of this universal phenomena is the sort of workers in these meat plants are usually ‘foreign’, Mexicans in America, Asians in the UK, East Europeans in Germany, so the news media don’t get so worked up about it when the infections do occur, rarely do they send a crack television news team to do heartfelt interviews with the affected workers. Infection and even deaths of migrant workers at meat plants is what you might write in as if it were some sort of footnote to your accountancy.
The second report from Germany concerns a riot that took place at a block of flats in the city of Gottingen. Police fired tear gas at residents trying to escape their own homes at a block of flats, 700 people had recently been placed in lockdown for a month after 120 of the residents had tested positive for the infection. It is reported that around 200 people had attempted to break down a fence that had been erected to stop them escaping the quarantine and possibly spreading the virus to others in the town. This is certainly interesting in that it could well be a sign of things to come in all of those places in a hurry to lift the commercial lockdown without having genuinely eliminated the virus. Since the coronavirus has not been eliminated, the World Health Organisation has just said on June 20th, ‘the virus is spreading faster than ever before,’ reporting 183,000 confirmed cases on a single day, the highest ever, the emergency is far from being over.
If you happen to live in Britain, Ireland or even Spain you might be forgiven for thinking that the emergency was indeed all over, one of my own neighbours assured me of that, when I asked why he thought so, his answer was that most people he observed about the place had started going into the shops and supermarkets without masks and many had stopped observing the social distancing rules, he then added the pubs and hairdressers were about to get the reopen signal.
What is true is that we are now in a new period of testing the new social environment, the official political idea seems to be that instead of having a universal lockdown we are moving on to a new more nuanced phase of occasional local lockdowns. This is why the riot in Gottingen is relevant, some people seem to resent a local lockdown more than they do the universal one, they hate the fact that everyone else is free and they are back under house arrest, so the future may be more local lockdowns and more angry breakouts and riots for the police to have to deal with. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. Which side will you be on, the police or the escapees?