The National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina has also proposed progressive lockdown exit measures that would include a widespread use of protective masks in public spaces and the adoption of digital tracing to track infected persons, making it possible to anonymously alert persons at risk of contamination. Despite the sensitivity of German public opinion about the issue of data protection, it is now likely that this application, developed by the Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz Institute on the model of an application used by Singapore, will be a central tenet of the lockdown exit process. A considerable advantage of this device is that an individual’s personal data is never shared: the information relating to people you cross paths with is linked to an anonymous identifier, changed regularly, and is stored locally on your phone rather than on a server. If a person is tested positive, they may decide to share this information voluntarily so that people with whom they have crossed paths are informed and encouraged to get tested.
On April 15, at a press conference with the Mayor of Hamburg and the Bavarian Minister-President, Chancellor Angela Merkel presented the first step of Germany's post-lockdown strategy. She made a point of recalling that the containment of the epidemic in Germany represented a "particularly fragile success story" (ein zerbrechlicher Zwischenerfolg), underlining that the rules of social distancing would be enforced until the end of April and strongly recommending to wear masks in public transport and shops. The Chancellor also insisted on the need to follow the chain of contamination, referring to the tracing application being developed and the increased use of tests.
In parallel, several policies are paving the way for a gradual recovery, including the reopening of bookshops, car dealerships and shops smaller than 800 square metres since April 20, while hairdressers will only be able to reopen on May 4. The Chancellor further announced a gradual reopening of schools, starting with classes preparing for an exam. From May 4, schools will be able to reopen gradually, provided that they set up a "hygiene concept" specific to each establishment. From May 15, hotels, bars and restaurants may reopen as well, provided that the 1.5 metre distance between customers is respected; however, all major events are suspended until August 31. On April 21, the Minister-President of Bavaria and the Mayor of Munich also announced the cancellation of the Oktoberfest, one of the country's largest beer festivals.
Faced with the risk of a "headlong rush," virologist Christian Drosten, one of Germany's most influential scientists, warned against reopening too quickly, which could foster a second wave. But as only the Länder have the ability to decide on lockdown measures, significant differences emerge from one region to another, making the constraints that continue to be imposed in some areas difficult to sustain. Stepping away from lockdown inevitably gives rise to an increasingly aggressive debate on the legitimacy and effectiveness of the restrictive measures still in place. From May 13 onwards, demonstrations in Germany's major cities brought together opponents of the restrictive measures imposed by the government and gave rise to a new protest movement, while a debate emerged on the possibility of requiring a population-wide vaccination campaign once the Covid-19 vaccine is available. In early June, the general feeling in Germany was that the country had successfully managed a crisis that now belonged to the past.
From federalism to budgetary discipline and data privacy, the crisis has called into question fundamentals of German political life. Germany, on the other hand, is revealing that both its healthcare system and its economy are capable of absorbing this unprecedented shock.
Resilience is also a key feature of the German political system. By showing that she remained in control of the situation and that the country was relatively well-prepared to deal with the epidemic, the Chancellor is regaining an aura that had tarnished in the last few years. Renouncing any martial rhetoric, the Chancellor intends to demonstrate that state preparedness and individual responsibility are capable of providing a response to the health crisis that is as effective as that of authoritarian regimes. As shown in the latest opinion polls, the populist AfD party is the first collateral victim of the Chancellor's success. This crisis could help reshuffle the cards in the struggle for her succession. In the midst of this crisis, Health Minister Jens Spahn and Bavaria's Minister-President Marcus Söder are undeniably the new "strong men" of German conservatism.
COPYRIGHT : CORINA FASSBENDER / AFP