COVID19 update, April 16, 2020: Germany’s exit roadmap; brief Belgium update; UPDATE: Switzerland’s time table

A light edition today, as I’ve returned to work post-Passover.

Germany appears to have passed the peak of the infection, and for several days running now has seen recoveries exceed new infections.


Consequently, the number of active cases is dropping:

Austria is about a week further along on this trajectory, and started reopening yesterday. Now the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has announced a roadmap for Germany’s return to normality yesterday, Some key points translated from the German “breaking news” report (and from the original document, see below):

  • Stores smaller than 800 m2 (about 8,800 sq.ft.) will be allowed to reopen Monday April 20, with hygiene and distancing measures. The motivation appears to have been to exclude indoor malls and stores that functionally operate as such from the initial opening permit.
  • In addition, bike stores, automobile dealerships, and bookstores can reopen on the same day regardless of floor area.
  • Also allowed to open on the same day are zoos, public parks, botanical gardens, and libraries.
  • Schools will gradually reopen May 4, beginning not with the youngest (as Israel is considering), but with classes in their final exam years, as well as the final grade of elementary school.
  • hairdressers and cosmeticists can reopen May 4 (with protection)
  • mass public events such as concerts, festivals, soccer matches, etc. will remain banned until August 31.
  • the Free State of Bavaria/Bayern will wait an additional week beyond these deadlines, as it was particularly hard-hit. In general, the Länder (lands, constituent states of the Federal Republic) will have leeway in working out details.
  • industrial activity is to carry on as normally as possible, under observance of social distancing, and telecommuting where at all feasible. In sectors where standstills have occurred due to lacking supply of components or spare parts from abroad, the government is to step in to help secure these
  • agriculture, it seems, was never restricted in any way (thank G-d)
  • masks are strongly recommended for any situation where it is impossible to keep a distance of at least 1.5m (5ft), e.g., on public transit
  • people are strongly urged to avoid all unnecessary travel within the country. Travelers abroad are still subject to a 2-week quarantine upon return, with exceptions for those transporting goods (e.g., truck drivers) and for cross-border commuters in border areas.
  • hotels and travel services can resume limited activity for necessary travel, not for leisure tourism

Note that the original report in DIE WELT was (understandably, given the “hot” breaking news character) written in great haste, and contained a capital mistake concerning religious services, implying that they would remain prohibited indefinitely. Predictably, this led to considerable commotion both in Germany and abroad.

However, here is the full document from the Bundesregierung (Federal Government), which instead says:

The Federal Chancellor and the heads of government of the Länder [i.e., the semi-autonomous “lands”/member states/top-level provinces that made up the Federal Republic] are aware that the practice of religion is a particularly valuable asset and, especially against the background of the difficulties that this epidemic and its consequences are causing for many people, living faith gives strength and confidence. However, after all we know about the role of meetings in the spread of the virus and about the risk of infection and the serious consequences for vulnerable groups [read between the lines: attendance at places of worship is heavily skewed to older people], it is still urgently necessary to limit ourselves to the transmission of religious content through the media. Meetings in churches, mosques, synagogues as well as religious ceremonies and events and the meetings of other religious communities should not take place for the time being. The Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Homeland Affairs, together with representatives of the Prime Minister’s circle, will begin talks with the major religious communities this week in order to discuss a way forward that is as consensual as possible.

In other words: I expect places of worship to reopen, with distancing restrictions (in practice: a cap on attendance), sometime in May unless an agreement can be reached very quickly. Lest anybody doubt the role of religious ceremonies in spreading an infection like this: Israel had major “super-spreading” events during Purim celebrations and closed down all communal houses of prayer (synagogues included) for the duration. What’s more: two ultra-Orthodox communities where rabbis at first continued to operate synagogues and yeshivot (communal religious academies) in defiance of the order now account for about 40% of all COVID19 cases in Israel. The virus doesn’t care whether you’ve come to pray, to watch a soccer match, or to hear Dream Theater play their new album — from its perspective, they are all large crowds of people packed together.

The same full document also stresses what I call TTT (test, track, trace) as a cornerstone of the strategy. Present testing capacity is stated as 350,000 a week. (Germany avoided the mistake of the CDC and decentralized testing from the start, with individual Länder harnessing the private sector.)

Meanwhile in next-door Belgium, a similar “roadmap” is being worked on but has yet been published. Instead, existing restrictions are being trimmed ad hoc at the margins. For example, about a week ago cell phone and telecommunications stores were added to the “permitted essential businesses” list, and both garden supplies stores and DIY stores are now allowed to reopen.

UPDATE: Switzerland is reopening April 27 (except for Ticino/Tessin canton bordering on Italy, which got it bad and will follow later). The Neue Züricher Zeitung has details (in German): https://www.nzz.ch/…/corona-ausstiegsstrategie-der…

Briefly:
27 April: Garden centers, flower shops, DIY shops, etc…. also with hygienic measures: hairdressers, massage, beauty salons.
11 May: remaining stores
8 June: middle schools, vocational schools, high schools, zoos, museums.
TBD: restaurants (Swiss don’t eat out as much as Americans in urban areas tend to do, BTW), touristic infrastructure, recreational facilities like swimming pools.

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