In case you missed it on the news — easy to do since it’s rarely mentioned — Europe is in the throes of the third wave of the pandemic.
Their rollout of the vaccines has been fraught with shortages and supply problems. It’s gotten so bad that the EU has halted vaccine exports for six weeks.
Along with the increased numbers of positive test results come the dreaded — and inevitable — calls for lockdowns. Italy may as well declare a perpetual lockdown as the nation will be shuttered over the Easter holidays. Partial lockdowns in France and most other EU countries will make it a grim Easter in Europe for the second year in a row.
Germany, with Europe’s most modern healthcare system and a reputation for government organization, was actually on top of the pandemic — at first. But their well-oiled system of tracing and isolating outbreaks has fallen apart, and German numbers have been as bad as the rest of Europe’s.
Seeing an alarming spike in positive tests and hospitalizations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a total lockdown of the country from April 1-5. There was a problem with that announcement: even experts said that a total lockdown wasn’t necessary.
The political firestorm caused Merkel to beat a hasty retreat and apologize for her “mistake.”
“We must try to slow down the third wave of the pandemic. Nevertheless, it was a mistake,” Merkel said during a press conference, according to German news outlet Deutsche Welle. “At the end of the day, I carry the last responsibility.”
“It’s now important for me to say so here. A mistake should be called a mistake and above all, it should be corrected, preferably in good time,” she added, according to the news agency.
Critics of the move, which included health experts and business leaders, said the lockdown could cause more harm than good, particularly the plans to allow grocery stores and supermarkets to open for a limited amount of time over the holiday — a move likely to cause crowds to gather. Others questioned the lost working hours and wages the move would entail.
“It was well reasoned, but was not really doable in such a short time,” Merkel said Wednesday, reflecting on the original lockdown proposal. “Too many questions, from missing wages through to the loss of time in factories and facilities, could not be adequately answered in time.”
Health officials in Germany are concerned that this third wave of the pandemic may be the worst yet.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Health Minister Spahn, Wieler appealed for people to reduce their social contacts over the Easter holidays.
Although 10% of the German population has now received a first dose of the vaccine, the gains from vaccinations are being eaten away by the high infection rate, he said.
Spahn also cautioned that the current trajectory of infections could overwhelm Germany’s hospitals in the next few weeks.
“At the moment, the figures are rising too fast and the variants are making the situation especially dangerous,” he said. “If this continues unchecked, we run the risk of our health system could reach its breaking point in April.”
Germany had more than 21,500 new cases on Friday — 4,000 more cases than were reported daily last week. Since the country has barely emerged from the previous lockdowns, those numbers reflect the futility of locking down an entire nation for a year, making little progress in slowing the spread of the virus.
Merkel will get away with her “apology” in the media, but what do ordinary Germans think? Merkel’s popularity has plummeted during the last year as people get angrier and angrier at a government that seems powerless to do anything about the pandemic.