Berlin Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU) considers the first steps from the Corona standstill after the Easter holidays to be possible. “We see a positive trend. But it has to steady, ”said Spahn in an interview with the Handelsblatt. The prerequisite for this is that the population also adheres to everyday restrictions over the holidays.
If the trend in infection numbers continues, “we will be able to talk to the Prime Minister about a gradual return to normality after the Easter holidays,” said Spahn. In a free constitutional state, far-reaching restrictions on fundamental rights could “only work as long as they are understood and accepted”. Therefore, it is not only important to justify the action well, but also “to show a perspective”.
State Secretary Stephan Mayer (CSU) meanwhile cautioned. The public debate about a return to normality is understandable, he told the Handelsblatt. “In the political area, however, we should be cautious, we must not create false expectations.” Mayer demands: “We should definitely wait for the Easter holidays and then decide in the light of our experiences.”
Read the full interview here:
Minister: Would you call the police if you saw a crowd of people in the park that was not a family?
The question gives the impression that many are violating the requirements. That’s not true, on the contrary: I experience a lot of insight and willingness in the population to keep a distance and to avoid physical contacts. Precisely because it is about protecting fellow citizens. This is solidarity and contradicts a climate in which we mutually denounce each other.
What is the current situation doing to our society?
We are experiencing the greatest encroachments on fundamental freedoms in the history of the Federal Republic. They are necessary for a limited period of time to protect the health system from overload. It all took us a few days to realize what the restrictions do to you. That also applies to me personally. Suddenly everything is different in everyday life. In everyday situations, you ask yourself what else you can do. This is an absolutely exceptional situation.
So far, the measures have received broad support. Can the mood change?
In a free constitutional state, such far-reaching restrictions can only work as long as they are understood and accepted. The moment many experience it as coercion, there will also be protest and resistance. It is therefore important to justify and explain the background transparently, but also to show a perspective.
Companies also want a perspective. Will there be a time when economic risks could outweigh health risks?
There is no contradiction between economy and health, both are related. A successful economy is a prerequisite for an efficient health system. At the same time, poor health protection can cause economic damage. In addition, if people become unemployed in an economic crisis, the self-employed fear for their existence, if stress arises from the double burden of work and childcare in the home office, this in turn can have health consequences.
Nevertheless: How long can Germany afford to largely paralyze its economy?
First of all: We did not shut down VW or Daimler by decree. That was a decision of the companies because the sales markets collapse in the crisis. The international markets will probably remain disturbed for longer, even if our economic life gradually returns to normal. State decisions have played a major role in other areas: in gastronomy, for example, in tourism, in aviation.
What impact do you expect economic growth to have?
In the short term, we are facing tough cuts and growth losses. We can already see this from the heavy use of short-time work and state liquidity support. The question of what long-term damage the economy will suffer depends on the duration of the restrictions. After two weeks, this cannot be finally quantified.
Which industries could be the best to start again?
A condition for returning to work is that the factory or business can be organized safely for employees and customers. Companies or industries that can demonstrate that they ensure hygiene or distance rules could be easier to get back into everyday life. We want to take this path in dialogue with all areas of the economy. One thing is also certain: wherever people get close to each other privately – at major events such as football matches or in clubs – it will still take a long time before normality returns.
Protective equipment for doctors and nurses is missing in Germany. The government wants to boost domestic production. Why now?
We have all theorized at any time that a pandemic, the global spread of a highly contagious disease, would mean that production would collapse worldwide and then the demand for protective masks would explode. But in practice no country in the world was prepared for this extreme situation.
Well, some were better equipped than others.
I don’t know of a single country that had enough medical protective masks in stock. That is why there is now a competition for all states. We experience two sides of the market economy: on the one hand, a market that overheats and in which a cent product suddenly costs several euros. On the other hand, we experience the social market economy in its full strength because companies – Lufthansa, VW, BASF, Otto and others – say: We want to help, not with the intention of making a profit, but for the common good.
“We must not weigh ourselves in false security”
This competition is held even among member states of the European Union. Doesn’t this crisis also show that in Europe everyone thinks of themselves in an emergency?
This epidemic is a challenge for the EU. It is not easy for all member states to cope with, not even for Germany: we show solidarity, for example we care for patients from other EU countries. At the same time, we always have to make sure that we keep enough resources to care for our citizens.
A sign of solidarity could also be common bonds of all euro countries in these times. Why is the Federal Government Resisting Corona Bonds?
Of course, we see that countries like Spain and Italy, which had a difficult budgetary situation before the crisis, now need financial leeway. But we can’t just think about the next three weeks or six months. What we are now deciding must also work in the long term for the euro area.
We have so far been spared horror images such as from Italian hospitals in Germany. Why do we seem to get through the pandemic more lightly?
Because we tested a lot and recognized the first cases early. We were able to prevent the virus from spreading quickly. That saved us time. We used them to procure protective equipment and to prepare our hospitals. We currently have 10,000 free intensive care beds. No other country in the world has that. This is a joint effort and is also due to the good work of the doctors in the practices. In some countries, the spread of the virus was not recognized until the patients were hospitalized.
If we are well positioned, why are we still waiting for measures to be relaxed? Austria has already announced this.
We must not forget that we always have to expect a delay of ten to 20 days after infection in the course of the disease until a patient needs intensive care medicine. It is still too early to give the all-clear. We see a positive trend. But it has to steady. That is why it is important to stay consistent over Easter. Even if it is difficult in the weather: We should stay at home and refrain from visiting families so that the infection curve does not increase again.
And if the trend continues?
If so, we will be able to talk to the Prime Ministers about a gradual return to normality after the Easter holidays. The word “step by step” is important to me. It will not work that from one day to the next everything will be the same as before.
A pandemic cannot be ended by political decision. How will we be able to prevent a new wave of infections?
In the near future, the main focus will be to quickly find and isolate those infected through extensive testing. And then track and isolate their contacts. This is the only way we can break the chain of infection.
For this reason, the Germans should soon have a Corona app on their smartphone.
Of course, you could also let the health authorities do it over the phone. However, this detective work means a great deal of personnel. And a good memory of the infected, they should remember all contacts. The digital solution would be more effective.
The use of the app should be voluntary. Wouldn’t there be gaps if not everyone installed the program?
That’s right. But I rely on the insight of the population. The message is: Getting out of everyday restrictions is easier if as many citizens as possible participate in the app.
There is also debate about making wearing a mouthguard compulsory. What do you think of a mask requirement?
My impression is that most citizens are open to voluntarily wearing such everyday masks when they are close to other people. The more available these masks are in everyday life, the more people will wear them. You also have to wear an everyday mask properly and wash it regularly. Otherwise it is of no use.
Are you also opting for voluntary work here?
At any rate at this point in time. Given the contact restrictions we already have, we don’t need an obligation.
How long will we live in a pandemic?
More months than weeks. Until a vaccine is available. But it is also up to ourselves. If we look at where a lot of people got infected, it was festivals, concerts or soccer games. So occasions when people stood very close together for a long period of time, were left out and when in doubt all drank from the same glass. We can all make a huge difference using simple rules – keep our distance, wash our hands, there is almost no handshake – and significantly reduce the risk of the virus spreading dynamically. That means: With appropriate caution, more normalcy will soon be possible again. But we will probably do without parties of all kinds longer.
And at party conferences? There is still an unresolved question of power in your party.
Party conferences are certainly not among the events that will take place in the next eight weeks. With citizens as well as party members, these party political things have also moved very far into the background.
Minister, thank you for the interview.
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