Germany / Catherine Coughlan
Germany has been praised for its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, with a lower case and death rate compared to neighbouring countries. Its efforts to retain its workforce, and its quick restrictions that are now slowly being lifted have also been cited as “exemplar”.
While these measured have been portrayed as a success in mitigating the effects of the coronavirus so far, marginalised communities are falling between the cracks. Most notably, refugees who are now denied entry, or those placed into overcrowded camps (with lack of hygiene or personal protective equipment), face violations of their human rights. Due to the stigma they already face and their restricted voice, this marginalised group are easily overlooked.
Furthermore, as restrictions are lifted and Germany tries to “return to normal”, policies must be constantly reviewed so as not to discriminate against any of its citizens, with concerns already arising over whether elderly people will continue to face lockdown restrictions whilst the rest of the population are “free”. Whilst Germany has so far combatted the pandemic admirably, it must continue to tread carefully to minimise any unnecessary right infringements. It also must listen to the voice of marginalised communities if it is to emerge from this crisis a stronger, healthier nation.
Currently, Germany’s government is a ‘Grand Coalition’, comprised of the major political parties, CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union) and the SPD (Social Democratic Party). Germany’s population is 82.9 million, making it Europe’s most densely populated country, and its GDP per capita is $55,737, placing it among Europe’s wealthiest countries.
Of its GDP, Germany spends 11.4% on healthcare, one of the highest percentages of health expenditure in Europe – this equates to $5,986 per capita. The de-centralised social health insurance system is often referred to as one of the world’s most robust systems, due to the high levels of service provision and reports of low levels of unmet need.
The OECD reports Germany has 8 hospital beds, 4.3 doctors, and 12.9 nurses per 1000 people, consistently ranking within the top three countries of the European Union. Germany is also one of the main manufacturers of ventilators. Dräger provides machines not only to Germany, but also to the UK.
Reports suggest Germany currently has over 25,000 ventilators, which some have argued is “more than enough” to combat the current coronavirus pandemic. Germany has been praised for its swift reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, with case numbers and deaths low in comparison to neighbouring countries. As of 3 May, there have been 167,745 reported cases, of which there have been 6,866 deaths and 132,700 recoveries.
Civil and political rights
In Germany lockdown measures began with the closing of schools and nurseries on 13 March, with further restrictions such as the cancellation of large gatherings taking place in the following days. A curfew was put into place by all Lander governments, with fines of up to €25,000 if not followed, though essential trips (going to work, supermarkets, or health providers) were permitted.
The German government assured this was not a “complete shutdown” and reviewed its measures every two weeks before some restrictions were lifted on 20 April. Due to the temporality of the restrictions, Germany’s lockdown measures cannot be considered infringements on civil and political rights.
On 18 March, it was reported that Germany would not allow refugees to enter its borders, putting its refugee pact with Turkey “on hold”, though children are still accepted.
On 18 March, it was reported that Germany would not allow refugees to enter its borders, putting its refugee pact with Turkey “on hold”, though children are still accepted. Reports from LeTRa, a German LGBT+ organisation, state that attempts to house LGBT+ migrants have also been halted whilst migrant camps are placed on lockdown, with no indication as to when housing attempts will be allowed to resume.
Though it is thought that these measures will be lifted as other measures for the majority of the population are lifted, the lack of a specific date for the lifting of these restrictions is of concern.
The rights to individual freedom are further being questioned in Germany following talks of employing an app to track and trace coronavirus cases. Issues of data sharing, tracking of movements, as well as unauthorised surveillance have arisen, heightening distrust between the public and the government.
Though the German government has assured the public that using the app will not be compulsory, there is an underlying pressure to do so, as the app relies on a large majority of the population to download and use it for it to work effectively. Due to the fragility and vulnerability of personal data, reviews must be conducted periodically, with great care taken not to infringe upon the public’s privacy.
Economic and social rights
The COVID-19 outbreak has had a lasting impact on Germany’s economy, with a recent German study estimating it to shrink between 7.2%-20.6% this year, costing an estimated €255 billion – €729 billion.
In an effort to mitigate this, Germany is currently passing a supplementary budget for 2020 of €156 billion, used to give grants of up to €15,000 to self-employed people and small businesses. Furthermore, companies with liquidity issues have been promised “unlimited cash” loans, 90% of which the state is responsible for, while the other 10% is dependent on the company’s banks.
Additionally, Germany has provided subsidised incomes for workers affected by the coronavirus (they are paid approximately two thirds of their regular pay, but have shorter hours and work at home where possible – this scheme is known as the Kurzarbeit), tax deferrals, and social security subsidies.
Due to the Kurzarbeit, it is predicted Germany will retain more jobs than its neighbours, though employees will see fewer hours and therefore less pay. Kurzarbeit has in the past helped Germany recover from the global financial crash of 2008/9, often cited as the main reason it “weathered” the crisis as well as it did. Despite this, it has been reported that Germany still faces unemployment issues, with over 2 million workers laid off, “50 percent more than after the 2008 crash”.
The culmination of these economic policies has been called “extensive and differentiated”. They have offered a tangible means for protecting the economic rights of the majority of the population.
Marginalised groups, such as the homeless, face additional challenges with shelters now overcrowded due to quarantine restrictions.
Marginalised groups, such as the homeless, face additional challenges, with shelters now overcrowded due to quarantine restrictions. On 18 March, the German government called for “special protection” of these communities. To prevent a growing homeless population, the government prohibited landlords from evicting tenants during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The overcrowding of homeless and refugee shelters has also led to a reported lack of sanitising and hygiene equipment, with NGO refugees4refugees stating no special hygiene measures are noticeable in German refugee camps, and little information is shared on coronavirus and its transmission.
Catherine Coughlan is a final year Global Health student with an interest in human rights and international relations.