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Strategies Against Corona Virus: Deadly Arrogance – Commentary


At the end of February, most German epidemiologists said that wearing face masks was pointless. Simple models do not offer reliable protection against corona, and professional masks have to be left to the hospital staff because there are too few of them.

At the end of March, some experts sound completely different. Professional masks remain reserved for the clinics. But even simple breathing masks, according to the virologist Alexander Kekulé, could at least protect yourself and others from corona. Especially if we would just wear all the masks. Just like in Asia. In Hong Kong, for example, the virus spreads much more slowly than in Europe, and it is not the first time in the corona crisis that we Europeans have to dismiss obviously effective methods against the virus and then consider it very late. The underlying paradigm may be that our modern, democratic societies can hardly learn anything from collectivist countries like Hong Kong or South Korea.

In Asia this is called "European arrogance". The corona pandemic is painfully teaching us just how problematic, yes, life-threatening such a basic belief is. The states with the flattest curves are all in Asia. Everyone has already seen diagrams of how infection numbers develop in different countries. A particularly impressive variant can be found at the British "Financial Times", updated daily and freely accessible. The diagrams there not only show a particularly large number of countries and regions – they also explain which measures countries use to reduce their infection rates.

The curves that stand out visually are those of Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The number of infected people increases much more slowly there – mostly without draconian lockdowns. The methods by which the contagion curves were flattened are quite similar in these countries: Comprehensive corona testing, complete digital tracking of all infected persons and all their contact persons as far as possible, the fastest possible isolation of all infected persons and quick, precautionary quarantine of all their contact persons until they have also been tested. Consistent wearing of respiratory masks in public spaces, hand washing, safety distance of 1.50 meters from other people, none of the measures works perfectly even in the beginning. But taken together, they appear to be a pretty effective safety net to live with the virus without overwhelming the economy or public life.

The safety net works something like this: when people find out more quickly that they are infected or have had contact with infected people, and then they quickly isolate themselves, and also if everyone who does not know whether they are infected, keep a safe distance from one another or their droplets at least cough into a piece of cloth, if they do get too close, a lot is already gained, whether it is enough in the long run to suppress the exponential growth of the virus remains to be seen. At the moment, at least it seems to be working well in several countries.Germany only partially on the right pathGermany, if you follow this list of best practices, seems to be only partially on the right path to a recovery after the lockdown of infections.✅ The already high test capacities, which are to be expanded in the coming weeks, have a positive effect. Including test laboratories in parking lots that people drive with their own car. A concept that was adopted from South Korea, by the way.✅ Behavior changes such as hand washing and keeping safety distances also seem to work quite well.❎ However, few people wear face masks in this country. This is not only because there are too few of them in Germany. It is also due to the fact that many citizens are strangely alien to this concept due to cultural reasons.❎ The development of a digital tracking solution is also only slow in Germany. The grand coalition is at odds with the issue and does not want to deal with it until after Easter, which would not be a good prospect after the lockdown. Because no tracking app warns us when we have had contact with an infected person, and because you cannot test everyone constantly, virus scanners running around here are isolated slowly and incompletely. If you do not know that you are infected, you can simply distribute your droplets among your fellow human beings without even a simple piece of material in between. A German tracking app will probably come someday. Until then, a lot of time will have been wasted. If it were easier for us to adapt best-practice examples from Asia, we might have fewer complaints and fewer deaths. Recipes against European arrogance In discourses, it is often said that Asian states are much more authoritative and easier to control than citizens western democracy; that they cared less about privacy; that they paid less attention to precision and were partially satisfied with half-cooked solutions. That there are cultural differences is undisputed. Nevertheless, democratic states like Austria have now found ways to control infection chains via the app. And the solutions that countries such as South Korea have found to deal with the corona virus are sometimes more liberal than the draconian lockdowns in the West. In any case, it is not a matter of adopting concepts from any cultural area 1: 1. It is simply a matter of not dismissing apparently effective concepts with reference to any stereotypes. Not succumbing to the paradigm of European arrogance. But to check what ideas you can adopt – and what you should adapt and how to make it work in our culture – even with the controversial issue of data protection, this is obviously possible. A tracking app is now being worked on in the vicinity of the Robert Koch Institute, which could record the movement profiles of users and which would register via Bluetooth connection to other cell phones, whoever was in contact with. Whoever is infected could do so to their surroundings then communicate at the push of a button. Affected people could quarantine themselves until they are tested. The German government is considering trying such an app on a voluntary basis. Experts are examining which data can be anonymized, and the concept for such an app comes from Singapore.
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