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ANALYSIS: Just how effective has Germany’s partial lockdown been?

ANALYSIS: Just how effective has Germany's partial lockdown been?
Mannequins placed outside a bakery in Freiburg. It's takeaway only during the partial lockdown. Photo: DPA
Just two days into the extended partial lockdown in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the shutdown was to be extended yet again until January 10th. What's going on?

Bars and cinemas with their shutters down and silent streets in busy cities at night: this has become the norm in Germany during the coronavirus shutdown.

And it doesn't look like it's ending any time soon: on Wednesday Merkel said the shutdown was being extended yet again until January 10th.

Why? Because the numbers are just not good enough. The country is still grappling with high daily coronavirus rates and a rising number of people are dying.

So is the partial lockdown failing? We looked at what's going on.

READ ALSO: Germany's partial lockdown extended until January 10th

What's the current state of play?

Merkel said on Wednesday December 2nd that Germany was “very far away” from achieving its target of having less than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days. The current seven-day incidence stands at around 134.

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On Thursday Germany recorded another 22,046 new infections and 479 deaths over the last 24 hours, according to the disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

There have been signs of improvement though: the exponential growth was halted at the beginning of November. But Germany has reached a plateau, making people wonder if the action is enough.

The chart below by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control,shows the coronavirus situation in Germany compared to other countries in Europe.

“After a temporary stabilisation of case numbers at a higher level in late August and early September, a steep increase in case numbers ensued in October in all federal states,” said the RKI in a recent situation report. “The increase has leveled off since the second week of November.”

“The steeply rising curve has become a flat one, but this is only a partial success. We can by no means be satisfied with this partial success,” said Merkel on November 25th.

Experts say there are an increasing number of older people in Germany becoming infected by Covid-19.

The head of the Robert Koch Institute Lothar Wieler warned on Thursday December 3rd that there would be “many more deaths” in Germany, and said it was becoming increasingly difficult to protect old people's homes from outbreaks.

The chart below shows the rising number of deaths per day in Germany.

Why hasn't the partial lockdown been more effective?

Authorities and experts admit that the shutdown, which has been in force since the beginning of November, has not had the effect that authorities hoped for.

“The partial lockdown is a failure,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung in a story published on November 30th. It is now becoming apparent that this 'lockdown light' is only having a very slow effect, the newspaper wrote.

Physicist Viola Priesemann also put it bluntly on the talk show “Anne Will” at the end of November.

“The lockdown did not work,” she said, adding that the strategy by the federal and state governments had failed.

Meanwhile, virologist Ulrike Protzer told Focus Online last week: “We have not achieved the goal with the measures we have taken so far.”

In Germany, restaurants, bars, cultural and leisure facilities were closed on November 2nd to reduce the number of contacts. Hotels can open but only for essential overnight stays such as for business travellers. Shops, schools and daycare centres have remained open but with restrictions.

However, even economists are sceptical about the measures. “It does not look as if we will be able to significantly reduce infection rates by Christmas with the measures currently in place,” Andreas Peichl of the ifo Institute for Economic told the Berliner Zeitung.

“The general appeals for people to stay at home do not seem to be working properly – you can see that when you look at the city centres. This makes the danger of infection even greater.”

Tobias Kurth, professor of public health and epidemiology at the Charité in Berlin, told The Local, the behaviour of people in Germany has meant that the partial lockdown has not been effective.

“Not everyone has followed the rules,” he said.

Merkel and other politicians have continually urged people to cut down on their social contacts as much as possible. But have residents been doing that?

Should Germany have gone for a tougher lockdown?

Other countries in Europe, such as neighbouring France and Austria, have opted for tougher lockdowns where people have not been able to leave the house unless for essential reasons.

Germany could have decided to enforce this kind of action, or at least a stronger lockdown like the one during the first wave in spring. In March and April, people in Germany were only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, but residents did not need a form to leave their house (unlike in some other countries such as France).

Kurth said this kind of lockdown would have been the best plan “to get the numbers down”, adding: “But I do not think that this would have been easy to communicate.”

It's also worth noting that Germany's daily new infection numbers were much lower than that of France, for example, in the second wave as this map shows.

“Compared with other countries, Germany was still at a lower level of infections,” said Kurth. “From an epidemiologic standpoint of course this would have been better but at least the exponential trend is stopped.”

As our sister site The Local France reported, France imposed a second lockdown on October 30th when the country's hospitals found themselves on the verge of becoming overwhelmed with critically ill patients for a second time this year, after the Covid-19 epidemic exploded across the country.

However, France looks like it's on track to leave the current lockdown on December 15th,  although some restrictions will remain.

As the chart above shows, though, France's action has had a much stronger effect on cases than Germany's partial lockdown.

READ ALSO: Will france reach its Covid-19 goals to ease lockdown in December?

What effect will loosening the restrictions at Christmas have?

From December 23rd until January 1st at the latest, people in Germany will be allowed to meet up to 10 people regardless of the households they come from. There are state differences on this rule, for example Berlin a maximum of five people are allowed to meet.

Economist Andreas Peichl expects there will be a tough measures in the first part of 2021 to deal with the spike caused by more people meeting at Christmas.

“When people drive across Germany at Christmas and on New Year's Eve, the numbers will rise again significantly,” he said.

“Therefore, stricter measures will follow in January.” Peichl believes that a lockdown over the Christmas period would cause the numbers to fall much faster and the situation would improve more quickly. “But the question would be whether people would even stick to it.”

Kurth told The Local he aso expected there to be a spike in cases two to three weeks after the holidays.

His advice was for people to have their Christmas celebrations online. “I understand how difficult this is, but we simply do not know if we will spread the virus and infect the vulnerable,” he said.

How long will the partial lockdown last?

In Peichl's opinion, a weaker lockdown could drag on into spring – until planned vaccinations have an effect.

From an economic point of view, this is justifiable, he argued.

“With the lockdown light, above all social consumption and tourism will be restricted, everything else will continue to some extent,” Peichl said.

In the end, it is a question of weighing up the pros and cons, and priorities. “A longer lockdown light will, in case of doubt, go easy on industry (as shops stay open) – which is very important in Germany,” he said.

“There will be an up and down situation until April or May,” added Kurth. “So yes, I am afraid that the 'lockdown session' will continue.”

“I do not expect a real relaxation until March,” said Ulrike Protzer, director of the Institute of Virology at the Technical University and Helmholtz Zentrum München, in an interview with Focus Online. “The days will be longer again, we will have more UV light and be able to be outside more.

“These three points are extremely important.”

What should people in Germany do now?

Experts and politicians are desperate for people to cut down on social contacts and avoid private meetings. In December the contact restrictions became tougher: residents can only meet with one other household and with a maximum of five people.

READ ALSO: 'Avoid travel and ventilate rooms': Eight rules Germany wants you to follow to bring Covid-19 numbers down

The number of new infections must be significantly reduced, said Wieler of the RKI on Thursday. “We can only achieve this together.”

He said many infections could be prevented by keeping distance, washing hands, wearing a mask and ventilating rooms.

“They also apply at home when the neighbour passes by briefly,” said Wieler, adding that the virus knows no boundaries and doesn't care what time of day it is.

Wieler said he's aware that this is “exhausting and frustrating” for people – but it is necessary, “especially for grandma and grandpa”. These measures are needed until people are vaccinated, he added.

“What we must always remember: the virus transmits from person to person,” said virologist Protzer. “So if I minimise my contacts, that helps us overall.”

To view more charts, maps and graphs on Germany's Covid-19 situation you can visit Our World in Data.ANALYSIS: Just how effective has Germany's partial lockdown been?


Member comments

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  1. Well, at least your government had/has a plan to try and protect both the people and the country from corona, and generally cares about the well-being of its people; if you wanna see a government that reckless, careless, and only cares about profits, then look to the States here; I don’t call us united anymore because we can’t even come together to fight this virus, let alone acknowledge it even exists.

    The States are in a free fall where the majority of our government has basically given up on doing anything about corona, our so-called “representatives” are more concerned with bailing out absurdly wealthy corporations than the workers that power said corporations; apparently we’re not worth another ,200 check or anything else for that matter, our hospitals are beyond capacity to where they are having to turn people away, and some states like Arkansas have passed laws where companies are immune from lawsuits when workers get sick from corona due to unsanitary working conditions (made worse by corona).

    So to those who are protesting these masks mandates and restrictions in their respective countries, because their governments are actually trying to do the right thing and combat the spread and deaths from this virus, just remember to look to the States if you want to see what a government that only cares about profits, and would gladly let you and your loved one die in the name of the economy/profits. We have “freedom” here; the freedom to either die from this virus or to go medically bankrupt from the 5 or 6 figure sum hospital bill many are left with should they survive corona’s onslaught. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemies.

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