Corona Chronicles 1: A German Perspective
By Angelika Wilberg Team member, GHMe 2020
Experiencing the rise of COVD-19 in Germany
On Friday, March 14, 2020, kindergartens and schools in Hamburg, Germany announced that they will be closed until (at least) April 19 2020. Slowly, more and more announcements were made to the general public: increase handwashing, keep a distance of 2 metres from others, sneeze and cough in your elbow, and statistics of cases and casualties were pouring out over the news channels. The following week the tone was more serious: playgrounds were closed, concerts and classes cancelled, fitness studios, swimming and recreation centres closed, shops, cafes and restaurants providing alternative solutions (online shopping, vouchers, etc). Toilet paper became the new hot commodity and many panicked as staple items were leaving the shelves empty and many had to start working from home. However the closure of borders and air travel as well as social distancing restrictions really signalled the seriousness of the situation and curiosity regarding COVID-19.
Creating a new normal
Over the past few weeks, we have seen drastic changes to daily living as a result of COVID-19 spreading globally. In many ways, panic has now turned into cultivating social responsibility and adapting health habits. Though some may never fully recover from the economic hit these changes have imposed, the "giving economy“ has never been stronger. Companies offering discounts and initiatives to helps those in need, artists and musicians streaming shows, professionals offering free content to master skillsets, free educational tools for children at home, etc. People need eachother. And it shows in the way humanity has been responding to the call amidst the circumstances and understanding that they need to protect those who may be most vulnerable to the virus as well as themselves and their families.
Main observations from a public health perspective
As a public health professional, it has been interesting to see the confusion among individuals regarding their health behaviours. With the quick spread of knowledge on online and media channels, misinformation is masked amidst facts. Particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, the facts have not been as loud and flashy as the myths. It reminds me of how clear the messages from public health professionals need to be at the ONSET of uncertain health crises to actively direct and empower individuals. Many thirst for answers and guidance to take charge of their actions in order to protect themselves and others.
Questions around hand sanitizing, masks, cleaning and disinfecting, what to expect from the virus, how to identify it and manage it. Navigating without a map in critical times is a stressor and though this has been getting better every day with increasing data to work with, the confusion has been evident. It was clear to see how confusion contributed to the fear and panic that had already been presenting itself.
Need for education...and empowerment
Dr. Jaime Hope, a frontline ER attending physician, recently launched a public livestream on Facebook as a response to the gap in clearly educating the public and addressing circulating myths in a personal way. Among useful information on the most current data, she reiterated that those who do not fear the virus enough have been spreading it by not being careful enough. She also stressed how though too much fear can be paralyzing, a healthy amount of fear however is needed to be prepared for what is to come and to empower others to do their part in flattening the curve (Dr. Jaime Hope, 2020). The struggles experienced by frontline staff working hard to address the crisis with limited resources was strongly highlighted.
Stumbling across this livestream on social media, there was so much gratitude and inspiration in the comments. People were empowered. Being reminded by a frontline worker of how much #healthheroes are putting on the line to fight #covid19 was such a huge and necessary reminder, particularly in the spirit of #WHWWeek last week. In my opinion, this personalized and passionate delivery was necessary given how saturated our information platforms are, potentially resulting in a passive absorption of the facts and fluctuating data. We need to continue to think of creative ways to reach people and keep the public informed and empowered. Empowered to be prepared and engaged.
Preparing for the next stretch
Though initially there was some doubt about the threat of this virus, Hamburgians have been doing a decent job in protecting themselves and others by social distancing, creative business solutions, and cultivating empathy and concern for their communities. Every evening at 21:00 an applause for the healthcare workers takes place through windows and balconies which has been a true expression of solidarity in shaky times and testament that #HealthWorkersCount. New infections of COVID 19 are still taking place in Hamburg and Germany. Currently Germany has 128,208 confirmed cases with 3,043 deaths. The relatively low mortality rate is yet to be fully understood, and closures are expected to continue until May and possibly June of this year. However, hopes continue to be high that with strategy and a spirit of togetherness, we can tackle both the known and the unknown.
Thank you to all the healthcare workers for your tireless efforts, for those who #stayathome, and for those putting food on the shelves and working behind the scenes to help us move through this time safely and supported.
From the GHMe team to you: stay healthy, empowered and connected as we move forward together.
Angelika Wilberg Online Content Coordinator, Global Health Mentorships Program (GHMe)
Stay tuned for more Corona Chronicles in different geographic locations. If you would like to offer your perspective based on your experience with this outbreak, please reach out to us- we would love to hear from you.