The Berlin Spectator
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Corona in Germany: From Zero to 200,000 in Five and a Half Months

When the Germans thought the Coronavirus was far away, it was already in their midst. Then the numbers exploded. Even the Chancellor went into quarantine. Now Germany is about register its 200,000th case.

John Grisham or comparable thriller authors could have made this up, but didn’t. Stockdorf, a municipality in upper Bavaria with some 4,000 inhabitants, was the location the outbreak in Germany started at. On January 27th, 2020, one employee at Webasto, an auto parts company, was infected by a colleague from Shanghai.

First Case in Germany

He was the first Coronavirus patient in Germany, the first of 199,592 counted as of this morning, five and a half months later. A lot happened between that bad day in late January and today. On January 28th, a day after the CEO of Webasto, Holger Engelmann, informed the authorities about the first Corona case in the country, four of them were confirmed.

At that moment, a long, fast-paced sequence of events commenced, one that would affect everyone in the nation and most people in the world one way or another. As of this moment, 560,209 persons have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by Corona, 12,466,337 individuals have been infected since, according to Johns Hopkins University. The actual number is probably a lot higher. For instance, hardly anyone believes the official numbers from China are accurate. Besides, millions of infected persons in the world may not have been detected.

Evacuation from China

The next day, on January 29th, Lufthansa cancelled most of its flights to China. Another two days later, on February 1st, 2020, there were eight Corona cases in Bavaria, while Germany evacuated 124 Germans and family members with different nationalities from Wuhan, the epicenter of it all. When the air force plane returned to Germany, it turned out two evacuees were infected with Corona.

By February 12th, sixteen Corona cases were confirmed. Fourteen of them were Webasto employees and family members, two were evacuees from Wuhan. In mid-February, the quarantine for most evacuees ended. At this moment, many in Germany believed the peak of the crisis had passed. But that impression lasted for two weeks only.

Pandemic Plans Activated

On February 26th, seven new Corona cases were reported, including a couple from Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia. This small town and the county around it became the first Corona hotspot in Germany. Some patients died. At this moment, the authorities and the nation began to understand what hit them. Health Minister Jens Spahn immediately ordered the federal states to activate their pandemic plans.

In late February, big events were being cancelled, including the international travel trade fair ITB the organizers of which had tried to save the event by announcing the installation of a few disinfection fluid dispensers in bathrooms at the Berlin fairgrounds. Of course it did not work.

Closure of Borders

On March 1st, a hundred persons were infected. The first Corona patient in Berlin showed up at the Charité hospital that employs excellent virologists. Still they did not believe the man was infected with Corona and sent him home. A day later, he returned. On March 8th, Germany had more than 1,000 Corona cases. The numbers kept on exploding.

A week later, on March 15th, 5,800 persons were infected. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced the closure of Germany’s borders to Luxemburg, France, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark. By March 18th, there were 12,000 cases in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Corona pandemic “the biggest challenge since World War II”.

Chancellor in Quarantine

On March 22nd, 2020, Mrs. Merkel announced a ‘contact ban’. It was the beginning of a semi-lockdown Germany went into for weeks, with severe consequences for the country’s economy. The Chancellor herself needed to go into quarantine that day because it turned out she had been in contact with a doctor who was infected with the Coronavirus.

Early on, towards the end of March, Angela Merkel started fighting off ideas according to which the lock-down and ‘contact ban’ should be lifted. The discussion about the measures the government took, and still does today, is ongoing.

Most Alarming Aspect

Now the number of infected persons who were registered in Germany since the crisis began will hit 200,000 within a day or two. But since 184,000 people who were infected are cured by now, the number of known active cases is about 16,000.

So far, Germany got through the crisis relatively well, compared to other countries. But 9,068 persons have died of COVID-19 so far. The most alarming aspect of them all is that nobody knows when it will be over and whether a second wave will hit Germany. It would not be the first country in that situation.

Related feature article: Chronology: Germany and the Coronavirus

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