Tensions Rise As European Leaders Face Pressure To Ease COVID-19 Lockdowns

While some European countries were eager to open up their schools and shops in the last couple weeks, the German Chancellor still feels hesitant to lift restrictions.

Life seems as though it is returning to normal in places like Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Norway. People can be seen back in malls, garden centres and hair salons. Children are back in their classrooms again. But amid this economic resurgence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is concerned a second wave of coronavirus infection will sweep across Europe if lockdown measures are abandoned too quickly.

Many have devised detailed plans on how they will gradually lift restrictions in an attempt to keep COVID-19 cases down. Switzerland has created a three-stage lifting plan, and the Czech Republic has a five-stage lockdown exit plan. Norway has allowed primary schools to open but only with up to 15 students in each classroom.

These plans attempt to balance easing the mounting frustration from the quarantined public as the economy grinds to a halt and bank accounts dwindle, with the desire to keep the same public safe and healthy. Just a few weeks ago, several hundred protesters campaigned against the lockdown in Berlin. Among the crowd were anti-vaxxers, well-known conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists, according to The Guardian.

Many believe the dangers of the coronavirus have been exaggerated. While over 3 million people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide, and more than 208,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Case Tracker, there have been fewer than 160,000 cases and just over 6,000 deaths in Germany.

These rates are much lower than many other countries. In total, the U.S. has had over 1 million confirmed cases and there have been over 3,600 COVID-19 related deaths in the borough of Queens in New York City alone.

“When I hear that protecting lives should come above everything else, I don’t think that is absolutely true,” Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s current President of the Bundestag lower house, told Der Tagesspiegel. “The massive economic, social, psychological and other effects need to be weighed up,” he said. “To just bring everything to a halt for two years can also have horrific consequences.” 

Despite German shops fewer than 800 square meters opening on April 20 and schools being planned to reopen next month, Merkel told The Guardian she is “greatly concerned” the public might let its guard down. The majority of the German population said in a poll last Friday that they support lockdown procedures, according to The Guardian. But Bild, a popular newspaper in Germany, accused Merkel of being “stubborn, pig-headed and bossy.”

Merkel’s concerns are valid, according to The Guardian. Every epidemic is unique, but the 1918 influenza pandemic is considered to be a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves. When the second wave hit, it hit much harder than the first. Scientists suggest the second wave of infections happen when treatment and isolation are exhausted, according to The Guardian. In this case, scientists are concerned that reopening the economy because of a frustrated public will override political support for lockdowns.

The number of at-risk versus immune people in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of the next wave. The problem now is that a vaccination is still months away at best and the true rate of infection is not known.

Justin Lesser, associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, explained to The Washington Post: “Epidemics are like fires. When fuel is plentiful, they rage uncontrollably, and when it is scarce, they smolder slowly.”

Taylor Linzinmeir