GP Insights # 303, 21 March 2020
The state of Bavaria became the first German state to impose a lockdown for the next two weeks starting from 21 March. The Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said that though the Bavarians are not locked, their public life is being entirely stopped due to an increase in the coronavirus cases in the state. The state of Saarland followed suit when Tobias Hans closed down the state along with its border with France.
Bavaria is the largest state in Germany with 13 million people and over 3,000 confirmed cases as of 20 March, while Saarland along the French border counted over 250 cases.
In Bavaria, the only exceptions to the curfew will be necessary shopping and need-based visits to doctors and pharmacies.
What is the background?
Germany has introduced stringent measures to restrict public life in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a public appeal to stop any form of public gathering and compared the pandemic to a crisis faced by Germany since WW II. However, so far the country has stopped short of imposing a full-scale lockdown like France, Italy, and Spain. The decision to lock down Bavaria came after a massive increase in the number of coronavirus cases from 19 March to 20 March wherein the number of infections rose by 35 per cent, and the number of deaths grew from 10 to 15. Second, the government appeals have been regularly ignored by the public, and despite the measures, several group outings, including corona parties in public parks have continued.
According to Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun, the behaviour of residents across Germany over the coming weekend will be closely watched – and will play a decisive role in determining whether strict curfews will be extended throughout Germany. The latest figures in Germany reveal that there are over 19,000 confirmed cases, and the "curve is likely to rise."
What does it mean?
First, a State's decision to impose a lockdown essentially brings out the fact that even in the face of the pandemic, restricting social gathering and social contact as an individual choice is difficult. Hence the States have been forced to enforce its unilateral collective choice to contain the spread of the pandemic. Since the health crisis, life in Germany is beyond normal. Panic-buying has left empty shelves in supermarkets.
Second, the economic losses for Germany have been increasing owing to its domestic crisis and also due to shutting down of its overseas car plants in China. The production of major German automakers like Volkswagen and Daimler have been hit by the epidemic. And with many automakers sourcing electric car parts from China, work at plants in Germany has also hit a stumbling block. If the domestic containment of the virus is not attempted, the government will be staring at an economic burden to facilitate its health sector as well as financially support companies suffering coronavirus losses.
Last, closing of borders throughout Europe and now the border state of Saarland will be another attempt to return to the pre-Schengen era and prevent further spread of the virus. Germany has closed its borders with France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark and authorities in Poland and the Czech Republic have already begun spot checks, measuring the temperature of travellers crossing main road borders out of Germany. With its decision to lockdown in the subsequent weeks, Germany will join the rest of the West European countries in systematically altering the free movement of people and reconstructing borders to contain the 'virus domino-effect.'