Whatever it takes

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In the fight against the corona virus, we’ve been stupid to the max. Visualization in the sense of an education would be urgently needed, but is only too happily dismissed as scaremongering. Epidemiology is not rocket science.

We screwed it up. After our politicians largely sleepwalking naively waved through the days after the outbreak of the epidemic in Wuhan and only woke up when there were already over 100 infected people in different clusters and it was somehow too late for really effective countermeasures, we were now allowed in Over the past few days, I have admired how plainly knitted specimens of the human species simply did not want to or could not understand what the hour was or how many people in Germany will be hitting it for the last time.

It is only a slight consolation, if any, that we will not be as badly hit in Germany as the people in the United Kingdom, the United States or even Turkey and India.

We have to go through that now

Whatever it takes. These three words from the then ECB chief Mario Draghi were enough to calm both the markets and the companies at the peak of the banking crisis in 2012 and to keep the eurozone stable. Mario Draghi succeeded in doing something that observers and experts would not have thought possible: saving the euro. No matter what it costs. Mario Draghi was able to speak these meanwhile winged words also and above all because of another person, who with all their power and radiance but also the economic strength of their country virtually guaranteed that these words could develop their full force: Angela Merkel. Back in 2012 at the height of their political power and ready to support the euro unconditionally. The highlight of the whole thing: the three words were enough. It was not even necessary to begin to prove that these would be followed up by deeds if necessary. Jackpot.

Whatever it takes […] We will not focus on accounting issues at the end, but on what Germany needs. Nothing else. This applies financially to medicine, and applies financially to the economy. We do what works.

Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder on March 12, 2020

In the last week, two country heads spoke exactly these three words independently of one another. The start was made by Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder on the evening of March 12, 2020 after the country heads met with the Chancellor, her ministers and experts from medicine, science and research and discussed and coordinated measures in this “corona crisis”. A few hours later, NRW Prime Minister Armin Laschet did the same. Remarkable and almost beneficial for both: of course, they related this formulation not only to the health of the people in the country, but – how could it be otherwise – also to the economy, but always mentioned people’s health first. Even before the economy. I haven’t seen that in a long time. Wow! But it should also be a pointer to how serious the situation really is.

But let’s stay with the positive things for a short moment. Because there are really a few of them that should at least be noted. After the federal government had finally woken up, the factual and pleasantly calm communication about the challenge ahead was actually started. I actually mean that in a positive way, because it stands out pleasantly from the initially disinterested bubbler of Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. After both wanting to pass the impending crisis in a rather moody phrase-thrashing manner, they have already arrived at blind actionism with the racist excesses known at least from Trump (“Chinese Virus”).

North Rhine-Westphalia is facing a large and serious test. The state government acts decisively and consistently. At the same time, it is also clear that this crisis requires special cohesion in our society. Now it is a matter of all of us sticking together to slow down the spread as far as possible, to protect people who are susceptible to illness and to save lives.

NRW Minister President Armin Laschet on March 13, 2020

In Germany, Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn sat in the federal press conference and explained the current situation and what the Federal Government intends to do in a matter-of-fact tone. Initially, the press releases of the Robert Koch Institute were held more or less in parallel and streamed into the world. After Jens Spahn had suggested that these experts come to the federal press conference, the RKI became known to an even broader public and it was really beneficial to provide factual and fact-based information and present the recommended measures. Alles gut. Everything nice. But there was and still is a serious problem: even back then (this “back then” was just under three weeks ago, by the way) it was much too late to significantly slow down or even stop the wave coming towards us. “Flatten the curve” should reverberate through the (social) media quite soon after the press conferences. Nice But about three weeks late.

The facts are there

Wir haben dazu Experten eingeladen. The head of the Robert Koch Institute Lothar Wieler, the head of the Charité Heyo Kroemer, because the university clinic is of central importance in this question, and Prof. Drosten. […] I believe that the discussion with the scientists was of great importance and great value. [..] This is an unknown challenge for us and one has to deal with such an unknown challenge first in terms of what science says, what it knows and by telling us what it does not know. And then we have to develop our preventive, and current measures.

Chancellor Angela Merkel after the meeting with the Prime Ministers of the federal states on March 12, 2020

Our politicians have been in close consultation with the experts on this topic for some time. Time and again, various politicians emphasize that the new measures are taken following consultations with virologists, epidemiologists and various other scientists. Last but not least, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself was awarded a doctorate in physics (which she acquired in the former GDR, by the way, in a system in which such titles could not be obtained in a twinkle of an eye) emphasized after the meeting with the country heads, who they were sitting with. Well, that’s what you would think. Because it depends on the next 4 to 5 weeks. Well, it would matter. If only the smart and wise words were followed by deeds. Whereby these actions or non-actions should come from each individual. But if you act unreasonably or even negligently, you may need an official notice including the threat of sanctions. This time window is closed. Even longer.

Now it is our job to save human lives as best we can and secondly to keep the economic activity going. Both tasks are demanding and we want to do them justice.

Chancellor Angela Merkel after the meeting with the Prime Ministers of the federal states on March 12, 2020

The bitter (predictable) truth

We are now writing the evening of March 20th. Another week has passed since the state-sponsored press conferences and statements by country heads and chancellor. Schools and day care centers were closed. Likewise, pubs. Restaurants and cafés are only allowed to be open for a few hours a day and are now de facto closed to lingering public traffic. The same applies to playgrounds. Not all people are particularly bothered by this. Especially the first spring-like sun rays attracted, or should one say seduced, many, very many, no, too many people to go back to the park. A picnic with friends in a cozy atmosphere. Grilling. Be together. Understandable on the one hand: good weather and more free time. On the other hand, complete madness: viruses simply love crowds of people and celebrate them with exponential distribution.

On March 18, Angela Merkel addressed the population for the first time in her 15-year reign in a television speech. Her speech was impressive, extraordinarily haunting, almost emotional and tough as hell: people, we don’t want that, but if you don’t pull your straps now, we have to do something that we have never done before and we don’t want to do at all. While some had still expected the declaration of emergency and curfew, in the end it was only a matter of very strict and warning words. Here Angela Merkel seamlessly joined the ranks of the country heads, who repeatedly appealed to the common sense of the people and only announced little by little further restrictions. I think it’s good and right and important that the federal government has not just declared a state of emergency and has thus torn apart the many good working groups at the state level. At the same time, I find it pathetic that these country heads have not found it necessary until today to issue assembly bans and at the same time announce a curfew.

It is not the curfew that protects us. What protects us is our behavior

Alain Berset, Minister of the Interior of Switzerland

It is not the curfew alone that would really achieve anything. It is the behavior change of everyone or at least many of them. At the same time, imposing a curfew in the Federal Republic of Germany would be a serious cut. Not least due to the impressions from the Nazi era and the arbitrary regime of the now former GDR, fundamental fundamental rights are very high, especially in Germany. Freedom of movement is one of them, freedom of assembly is another. I can understand that Angela Merkel, as emphasized in her speech, has a massive problem with the restriction of fundamental rights. Likewise, Armin Laschet in NRW suggests the same. It is just that: it is not that far in this country with personal responsibility and if it is so blatantly obvious that enough cretins do not want to or cannot adhere to strict recommendations, then appropriate measures must be taken (I just cannot believe that I wrote these lines).

Projection until 30.03.2020

The initial situation:

  • since March 16, 2020 there have been severe restrictions on public life due to the closure of schools and daycare centers and the extension of the semester break for students
  • since the incubation period for the coronavirus can be 14 days, you will see a change (= reduction, hopefully) in the number of newly infected people per day at the earliest from 30.03.2020
  • at the same time, the number of people infected per day increases by approx. 31.5% (based on the average from the RKI numbers from March 1st to March 18th).
  • the lethality of COVID-19 is on average 1% (Important: COVID-19 is a new disease and the CFR or lethality differs considerably between the countries – why this is so, among others (somewhat more scientifically explained) – the mortality rate for Germany is around 0.3%
  • Source for the number of infected and dead: Johns Hopkins University

The Excel spreadsheet is on my OneDrive and is publicly accessible. Edits are not allowed, however, you can download the spreadsheet 🙂

Regardless of the measures already taken and likely to be taken over the weekend, the number of infected people in the end of March should be in the region of 300,000. The percentage of COVID-19 diseases that is rather complicated to severe cannot be precisely determined. It is therefore not foreseeable at the moment how many intensive care beds or ventilation places we actually need across Germany.

Only together

It looks dramatic and looks scary too? Yes, the situation is really dramatic. Precisely because this supposed normalcy (maybe a little calmer now) does not suggest that we are experiencing a catastrophe that is unfolding in slow motion. However, this can be over very quickly with slow motion if the number of infected people continues to increase (exponentially) and we inevitably reach our capacity limits in the healthcare system.

How much can still be avoided or weakened can only be seen in retrospect. But what we can and should do in any case:

  • turn on the brain
  • wash your hands
  • keep distance
  • Cough / sneeze in the crook of the arm
  • go out moderately
  • Shop moderately
  • be considerate of others, especially older people
  • do not point a finger at others

Everything will change. We can only meet this challenge together. And this is a huge challenge.

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