Globalisation a curse? – How Germany predicted COVID-19 years before its outbreak and still failed to prepare its national market for it

The Wuhan Virus, Coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 – I’m sure there is not one person in the world that has not yet heard at least one of these terms by now. And if not heard, the consequences of the outbreak of the virus can be at least seen everywhere: Empty parks, empty streets, even empty shelves in the supermarket.
In Germany, toilet paper, pasta, rice and flour are in high demand. At the moment, efforts are being made to refill the shelves, but not only supermarkets are struggling. Germany’s intensive care unit beds, while being high in numbers compared to the rest of the world, were already occupied on average with a quota of 70-80 percent before the Corona outbreak happened (DKG – Deutsche Krankenhaus Gesellschaft, 2020). Furthermore, hospitals are facing not only the challenge of labour shortages, but also a bottleneck in the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and even though manufacturers work and produce PPE around the clock, the demand continues to significantly exceed the supply (World Health Organization, 2020).

Just a current logistics obstacle or a problem of non-predictive planning?

Germany’s hospitals are overwhelmed and understaffed

The printed matter 17/12051 – A look into the crystal ball

In 2012, the German government presented the Bundestag with a risk analysis on civil protection. The printed matter 17/12051 presented two scenarios with a high possibility of happening in the future, one called a “Pandemic caused by Virus Modi-Sars”. The eight-year-old document makes assumptions that are now confirmed. It describes a scenario of an unusual pandemic based on the spread of a new type of pathogen, transmitted from a wild animal to humans at a market in Southeast Asia.

The theory of it being a SARS-like virus has been based on the background that the original SARS virus quickly pushed various very different health systems to their limits in 2003 and according to the document, the past has already shown that pathogens with new characteristics triggering a serious epidemic event can suddenly appear.

The spread of the SARS virus 2002/2003
(grey = not infected, red = confirmed infections, black = confirmed deaths)

According to the analysis, symptoms of the disease include dry coughing, fever and shortness of breath. Elderly people are particularly affected by the disease. The incubation period is up to 14 days, and the dangerous pathogen also sticks to surfaces for some time. The document also states possible impacts on the health system and economy and that the provision of services and goods to the population and hospitals through functioning infrastructures and supply chains shall be assured. Some possible countermeasures that not only the German population but almost every citizen in the world is facing have also been listed in detail in the printed matter: the closing of schools, the cancellation of major events, the reduction in public transport and the slow shut down of public life in general (Bundesregierung, 2013).

So, although there is a report stating the exact situation that the world is facing right now and Germany had an analysis of the possible developments that this disease might make in their own borders, it still took weeks for the protective measures to be implemented. At the same time, there are still the challenges of supply shortages. While the Federal Ministry of Agriculture states that the supply of most important foods in Germany is secured and staple foods are produced and offered in sufficient quantities (Die Bundesregierung, 2020), the situation is very different looking at the personal protective equipment needed. The number of COVID-19 patients in Germany is increasing every day, while protective equipment in hospitals and medical practices continues to run out (Osterloh, 2020).

Why? Because Germany is the third largest importer worldwide, behind the United States of Amerika and China, and therefore dependent on production sites outside of Germany for many goods. The much needed pharmaceuticals and medical equipment

Top 10 of Germany’s most imported goods

is under Germany’s top 10 imported products, with China as their most important supplier (Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, 2019).

The spread of COVID-19 reveals the advantages of regional markets

Globalisation has made us more vulnerable. It creates a world without borders, and makes us painfully aware of the limitations of our present instruments, and of politics, to meet its challenges.

Anna Lindh

Swedish Politician

Globalisation – The promise of open borders and global mobility for goods and people. It has helped countries like China or Vietnam to lift their economies and citizens out of poverty. It has provided people in more industrialized nations with very cheap clothing and technologies. On the other hand, it opens borders and therefore makes the world more vulnerable to various disturbances, from terrorist attacks to natural disasters and diseases.

The situation now confirms that global networks are unstoppable, since the networks are weakened in many places and a chain reaction follows. Important supply chains have been interrupted and as the virus has spread to other countries, there were stops in production and therefore a drop in profits and labor income. In China, there has been a massive production shut down in the fields of industrial production and also in the factories for medicines, usually exporting into the whole world (Hickel, 2020).

With the Commission Implementing Regulation 2020/402, the EU has now put restrictions on its own exports of protective medical equipment into force in connection with the spread of the coronavirus on March 15 (European Union, 2020). As the German economy relies heavily on open markets and international trade, the corona virus has already had an immense impact on businesses and supply chains, as well as national economic growth. Not only more and more textile companies but also some automobile manufacturers have now switched and started to produce face masks. After all, given the interrupted supply chains, drops in sales and high demand, they have few alternatives (Steinlein, 2020). The longer COVID-19 spreads worldwide and no cure is found, a global economic crisis cannot be avoided.

But is a deglobalisation the right solution?

No. In fact, I think that in contrary, closed borders and closed minds are the opposite of what the world needs right now and a common strategy and solution is important when facing the challenges of COVID-19. In my opinion, if all states had reacted earlier and – most importantly – more coordinated, the amount of infections would be lower today and the pandemic would be easier to deal with.

I think that the search for a common solution first in the EU and then on a global level, is necessary and the proposed corona bonds are a first step in the right direction. Another step in the right direction, that was about time, is the law by the Chinese government prohibiting to eat and to trade wild animals.

Unfortunately, if this law would have been enforced directly after SARS in 2003, the COVID-19 pandemic might not have happened in the first place.

Maybe it is also time to rethink the expectations that we as citizens have from our governments. They may not be much more forward-looking than the people they are elected from and they are rarely more courageous or determined than society as a whole. Chancellors and their ministers have no magic powers, especially not in the fight against viruses. In the end it depends on the citizens, on all of us. Therefore, wash your hands, stay at home and most importantly, stay healthy.

 

References

Bundesregierung. (2013, January 3). Bericht zur Risikoanalyse im Bevölkerungsschutz 2012. Retrieved from Drucksache 17/12051: http://dipbt.bundestag.de/doc/btd/17/120/1712051.pdf?mktcid=nled&mktcval=123_2020-03-19&kid=_2020-3-19&trco=

Die Bundesregierung. (2020, March 26). Versorgung mit Lebensmitteln gesichert. Retrieved from https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/themen/coronavirus/pk-lebensmittel-logistik-1735120

DKG – Deutsche Krankenhaus Gesellschaft. (2020). Coronavirus: Fakten und Infos. Retrieved from https://www.dkgev.de/dkg/coronavirus-fakten-und-infos/

European Union. (2020, March 14). Official Journal of the European Union. Retrieved from COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) 2020/402: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32020R0402&from=DE

Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. (2019, September). Facts about German foreign trade. Retrieved from https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Publikationen/facts-about-german-foreign-trade.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=9

Hickel, R. (2020, March 3). Infizierte Weltwirtschaft – Kampf gegen die Corona-Wirtschaftskrise. Retrieved from Arbeitsgruppe Alternative Wirtschaftspolitik e.V.: https://www.alternative-wirtschaftspolitik.de/de/article/10656332.infizierte-weltwirtschaft-kampf-gegen-die-corona-wirtschaftskrise.html

Library of Congress. (2020, March 19). China: Legislative Decision Passed to Punish Trade and Consumption of Wild Animals amid COVID-19 Epidemic. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/china-legislative-decision-passed-to-punish-trade-and-consumption-of-wild-animals-amid-covid-19-epidemic/

Osterloh, F. (2020, April). Medizinische Schutzausrüstung: Unübersichtliche Situation. Retrieved from Aerzteblatt.de: https://www.aerzteblatt.de/archiv/213495/Medizinische-Schutzausruestung-Unuebersichtliche-Situation

Steinlein, E. (2020, April 9). Masken made in Germany? Retrieved from https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/masken-produktion-deutschland-101.html

World Health Organization. (2020, March 3). Shortage of personal protective equipment endangering health workers worldwide. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/03-03-2020-shortage-of-personal-protective-equipment-endangering-health-workers-worldwide

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *