The Wendepunkt has come, and Germany finds itself near the crest of its Omicron wave. Almost 3.5% of the entire country is officially positive for SARS-2 right now. Unofficially, as many as 15% are probably infected. Hospitalisations and deaths, meanwhile, remain well below their peaks from 2021; Omicron is mild, as promised, and every day Corona fades further from the headlines. Journalists want to talk about other things all of a sudden — about Russia and Joe Biden, about Joseph Ratzinger, about the death of Götz Werner.
The manic drive for perpetual vaccination has all but stalled. Courts in Bavaria and most recently in Hessen have overturned rules banning the unvaccinated from shops. All discussion of new restrictions, of new metrics, of new rules, is increasingly tabu. The hystericists are on the defensive, and yet even as the urgency has been drained from the containment apparatus, containment continues. The coalition government, the institutions and the press have entered a period of profound paralysis. Here and there, rules might fall away, but there will be no abrupt change in course. For the foreseeable future, there will only be vague promises for the summer.
In March 2020, we imposed restrictions to reduce transmission and save our hospitals. That was the official justification, anyway, however stupid it feels to type that now. In February 2022, we impose restrictions because restrictions have become things that we impose when people test positive for Corona. We aren’t trying to spare our intensive care units, or to improve our mortality statistics, or anything like that. Nobody talks about goals anymore at all. Masks and capacity limits and testing and green passes have become routine aspects of public life, observed for their own sake, because they make some people feel better.
A few English readers wrote to me, reporting that they were astounded at how quickly normal life returned after 26 January, when the UK withdrew most pandemic rules. I’m pessimistic that Germany will ever be able to return to normal that easily, even were we to stop all this madness tomorrow. It is hard to describe how much everything has changed here, and how thoroughly many seem to have accepted this bizarre new nursing home world. Every moment we continue this, is a moment we do further, unpredictable damage to our social, cultural and economic life, and it is such an enormous tragedy, that nobody in power seems even mildly interested in stopping or taking steps to reverse this catastrophe.
What I feared most last fall, was the normalisation of containment and vaccination policies. Crazy vaccinators hawking sixth booster doses are a problem in the moment, but it is the bureaucrats in the back rooms, planning stable policies for the longer term, who might well destroy the world. The ominous thing now, in Germany, are the hints we get here and there of plans for an indefinite regime of Corona management. I still think it is unlikely this will happen. I still think that once EU hardliners like Germany, Italy and France begin to withdraw the containment regime, the political pressure for further liberation will surge and this will all end in weeks. Not everyone wants that to happen, though, and there is a non-zero chance we end up in an indefinite purgatory of annual mass vaccination drives, arbitrary mask mandates and recurring seasonal restrictions.
This pandemic has changed everything in my life. It has made me a vastly more private and withdrawn person than I was before this started. It’s alienated me from friends and colleagues I used to respect, it’s driven me out of the city, it’s changed many of my personal habits. I very much doubt I’ll keep my academic position for very much longer. I’ll never see my way to forgiving them the arbitrary restrictions and the medical harassment of the last many months, and writing for all of you here is more important and more rewarding.
That’s what I have to say on the state of things in Germany.
UPDATE: I meant to say, I have begun to plan seriously for the future, and specifically for the future of what I want to do here. Part of that, is more non-Corona content in the coming weeks, as well as some book reviews and other matters. Some of these will require significant research and preparation, so I’ll experiment with open threads or very brief updates, while I put them together. As always, your feedback is welcome and very much appreciated.