In principle, the response in Germany has been similar to that in almost all countries in Europe. Hence many details of the report (“Corona Paper”) are of wide interest, with lessons and parallels for elsewhere.
The main report has some 30,000 words in sophisticated German (with many typos, some confusing). Parts of it are highly abstract while others refer to the structure of ministerial decision-making in Berlin. Below I shall provide background to the report in straightforward English and reproduce various arguments and facts which are also of interest to a non-German readership.
On or just after 7 May 2020 a senior civil servant – “Oberregierungsrat” Stephan Kohn – of the German Ministry of the Interior in Berlin sent, on official notepaper, his analysis of the response to the Corona pandemic to his counterparts in the sixteen constitutive states (“Länder”) of the Federal Republic of Germany.
This paper was leaked to at least two websites (Achgut and Tichys Einblick). The author was suspended and a Ministerial statement issued, unusually on a Sunday (10 May), dismissing the contents as the opinion of a rogue official who did not have permission to distribute the paper (i.e. not even to the aforesaid officials). It was put about that the author of the paper was mentally disturbed. This is how the matter was reported, briefly, by the German public broadcaster. (Incidentally, this broadcaster is financed by a harshly enforced annual levy of over 200 euro on every German household, whether or not it has a television or internet access.)
Herr Kohn works (worked) for Section KM4 and was in charge of the project “Renewal of the strategy for national critical infrastructure”. Hence it was the task of Herr Kohn to draw up such a paper, for which he consulted widely, including obtaining the advice of at least ten leading scientists and medics. The latter have publicly objected to the attempt to suppress their contribution to the analysis and reiterated their dismay at the continued lockdown measures (11 May). Other staff at the Ministry and superiors had been involved in drawing up the paper. A few weeks earlier, the head of the KM4 department, who had praised the document, had been abruptly transferred from his post, which is mysterious since his successor will shortly enter retirement.
When in 2018 Horst Seehofer (CSU) took up his post as Minister of the Interior, Building and Community, he explicitly urged his staff to speak up if they have a contrarian and well-argued opinion on any matter since, in his experience, this leads to good decisions.
So much for the ministerial background, which bodes ill for Germany’s claim to be a democracy, let alone a vibrant one. Having said which, almost all countries normally regarded as liberal democracies fall far short. (At www.fuzzydemocracy.eu I have set out how a seriously representative democracy could be constituted in the 21st century.)
Note: The “Corona Report” whose main points are summarised here consists of a short version followed by a long version. The long version contains various graphs and tables with many figures. Sources are provided for the various statements made.
The core analysis is that there are two dangers. One is the pandemic itself; the other is collateral damage caused by the response to the pandemic.
There is a disclaimer to the effect that the paper is not a product for purposes of public relations, but an internal report whose sole purpose is to improve the crisis management and plan the measures to be taken. In view of the urgency of the matter (“peril in delay”) the report is frank and direct – no attempt has been made to phrase things delicately.
Of relevance here too is the author’s concluding remark: “This report is a snapshot and can of course only deal with a limited facet of reality. It was more important for it to be completed than for it to be perfect. Hence it contains some repetitions and inexactitudes. I hope none the less that this report can contribute productively to the events surrounding the crisis.” PG: It does indeed contain much repetitiveness, some of which is retained in this summary.
The long paper begins with an elaboration of the methods and approaches. The first several pages have the headings: Foreword; Introduction; Tasks and working method of Section KM4; Why this evaluation? Who and what do I mean in this report by “Crisis Management”? The protection of critical infrastructures; Section KM4 as a resource in overcoming this crisis. They continue with: How were the Federal Ministry of the Interior (and the Ministry of Health) [BMI-BMG] prepared for the crisis situation? Pointers and warnings in earlier work on protection of the population; Pointers and warnings in publications, brochures and speeches.
These preliminaries, largely addressed to Interior Ministry insiders, are of only marginal interest to readers outside Germany. Now to the substance.
Section 3 reports on exercises such as Lükex 2007, when a pandemic was played through. This cross-departmental consideration of risks proved to be deficient. Nothing was learnt from this large-scale exercise. This means that the health risk is the sole subject of a single crisis team, which with its measures creates additional dangers which in turn become so great that further crisis teams have to be created and which act in parallel. There is no connection between the risk analysis and the planning of measures. Moreover, the risks of the health crisis are regarded as the most serious and as those which must govern decisions – although no comparison (weighing-up) has occurred.
An extremely grave deficit in crisis management is the failure to determine the risks. If scattered current data are used to determine the dangers to health for our society as a whole (i.e. not the dangers posed to individuals), then the collection of relevant data must be planned and performed. (The author proceeds to elaborate this principle with a comparison with how planning proceeds for the event of very heavy rainfall.)
It is only when one knows whether, and to what extent, the virus will cause excess (i.e. above-average) deaths AND when one knows which functional areas of society are likely to be affected, can one draw up appropriate and proportionate measures and therefore fulfil the duty of the disaster unit to avert major national dangers.
The author goes on to decry shortcomings which inevitably arose from the failure to observe this principle. The result is that the crisis management threatens to become speculative; i.e. it gambles with the fate of the nation and people.
The next subject is an evaluation of the risk analysis undertaken in 2012 and its relevance for the present crisis. The performance of such a risk analysis is anchored in German law (details, as always, in the German source text). The simulation for handling a pandemic was provided by the Robert-Koch Institute (RKI).
Since we now know, in 2020, that protective measures against a much less harmful pandemic can cause much worse collateral damage, the scenario used at the time seems unrealistic in some respects.
In the event of a really bad pandemic, with millions of deaths (i.e. as postulated in 2012), it would not be necessary to impose a curfew: people would stay at home of their own accord if they knew that any unfortunate contact would kill them within a few days. Moreover, under these circumstances, the state would not be in a position to enforce any restrictions. It would have more important tasks with its remaining manpower.
Nor would there be any need to stop people going to work. On the contrary: the police would fetch essential and reluctant staff from home. That is, if the police and the military had the manpower to do so. Crime would rise. Our society and state order would scarcely survive a pandemic with 7.5 million deaths, and, if the critical infrastructures collapsed, this would go for our civilisation too.
In the 2012 scenario, to simplify things, it was assumed that each age cohort would be affected the same; this despite the fact that, so far, all Corona viruses have led to illness and death mainly among those aged 65 and over. Hence in 2020 the working population, i.e. those who are needed to keep things running, has hardly been affected – that is, not healthwise. Under the scenario from 2012 the pandemic would have led to the collapse of at least parts of the critical infrastructure; worse still, the pandemic once past, it would not have been possible to regenerate things quickly. For such regeneration the critical factor for success is, obviously, that all restrictions and protective measures be ended instantaneously.
In a real crisis no-one would have the idea of appealing to the Constitutional Court for permission to stage a political demonstration. It would not even be newsworthy.
An important finding from the risk analysis 2012 is that, when measures are imposed, consideration must be given to the thought that the initial warnings turn out to be a False Alarm. This is because effective and comprehensive protective measures are imbued with their own powerful potential to cause damage (i.e. as collateral damage – PG: “friendly fire”). In the case of a false alarm and exaggeration of the health risks any such potential has a fateful – ironic – effect all of its own.
The role of politics: This paragraph discusses the attribution of guilt / fault for any shortcomings. “So far it has not been a purpose of state public relations to suppress criticism.”
Further observations on dangers from collateral damage: In the scenario of 7.5 million deaths, four million of the workforce would die, with knock-on effects for the social security system and peace in the community. Knock-on effects on supply chains, whether global or national, are also discussed.
The shutdown of critical infrastructure would be seen, for example, in water supply. Increasingly water supply is managed using computer controls. These depend on electricity and IT security.
A key factor is how the general population reacts. Solidarity and mutual consideration might mutate into aggressive and anti-social behaviour if the perception takes upper hand that the authorities, including the health system, have failed the people.
Chapter 4 is headed: Has the State done enough for the protection of Critical Infrastructures? And if not, what is standing in the way?
At issue here are resilience and vulnerability. An earlier Minister of the Interior, Dr Hans-Peter Friedrich, is quoted with regard to tap-water, electricity and internet, but also logistics (transport) and financial transactions.
His successor, Thomas de Maizière, ran into media and political trouble when, in 2016, he urged people to keep a supply, per person, of 10 litres of water for five days and foodstuffs for a fortnight. This was interpreted by some of the press as a call for people to stock up (like hamsters) in the wake of terror attacks. [PG: which of course had nothing to do with the timing]
Hence the mere mention of the expression “Hamster” can destroy any reasonable recommendation.
The press campaign led to work on protection of critical infrastructure being reduced. The author proceeds to describe various unfortunate concatenations within the Ministry.
Chapter 5 is headed: What should have been heeded in assessing the dangers? It contains subsections headed: Guidance on assessment of dangers with checklist; What would a risk assessment (dangers to health) have looked like in terms of plausibility? Plausibility examination for the endangerment by the Corona virus by means of a comparison of causes of death; Elements of a plausibility examination for the effects of an economic crisis on care; Approaches of a plausibility examination from the perspective of the development of the population; Digression on quality of life in old age and mortality.
Forecasts, scenarios and measures must be examined for plausibility before they can be used for decisions – hence the need for a checklist. If any measures may have more than minor negative side-effects, their side-effects and targeted dangers must be identified in order to avoid collateral damage exceeding the damage feared from the danger triggering the proposed response.
There has not yet been any such checklist. The author proceeds with two tables providing such a checklist with space for two adjudicators to pass an opinion.
There follows mention of the legal preconditions for any measure that may be taken (i.e. the question of whether the legal framework allows such measures as may seem essential); mention too of the crisis management being subject to recourse claims in the event of gross mismanagement.
In this context, in judging the danger to our society of a new virus (“our society” is underlined) the counting shall not include deaths where the virus was present but not the cause of the illness leading to death; or persons on the verge of death, for whom any additional everyday strain (including influenza or pneumonia) would be attended to with palliative measures only.
An estimate of the danger emanating from a virus – and therefore of the planning of state counter-measures – can be formed only from an excess death count which has eliminated such figures. [PG: that is, “routine” deaths cannot be included in the count.]
Moreover, for the analysis of danger and the planning of protective measures, the adverse effects of any measures must be systematically recorded (“systematically” underlined) so that the opposing effects can be compared and the fight taken to the greater danger. Measures taken must be consistent such that they do not neutralise each other.
Statistics on the causes of death are publicly available (German govt website quoted). On this basis but also using Wikipedia, the author has drawn up a table for two representative weeks in order to compare recent trends with the average in the corresponding weeks in recent years, reviewing the 20 most frequent causes of death. Further details of the composition of the table. Danger increases as the average death figures are exceeded.
There is discussion of the number of suicides. Is this higher due to the crisis? Because of the medical threat (the virus) or because of the adverse effects of the protective measures (depression, psychosis)? Then there are the deaths caused by alcohol abuse and tobacco. Mention of illegal drugs. See the German original for the details. [PG: the weekly figures for 2017 are in each case far greater than those for Covid-19]
An analysis of people at high risk identified these as being very aged, suffering from severe illness, needing care, being at the end of their life.
In the last few decades our society has invested a high proportion of its economic surplus in expanding a system which has enabled the lives of its citizens to be lengthened considerably. Since 1950, life expectancy has risen by 13 or 14 years. This is seen as something acquired which people would not wish to see diminished.
Discussion of the role of the care sector in this development. In Germany, 3.5 million people presently need care. (Further details in the German source text and an appendix, which is not in the public domain.)
If the economic surplus should cease to be available, expenditure and services would have to be reduced and therefore life expectancy would fall. Discussion of the economic implications of rising care needs, with different claims on expenditure (education, investment...) competing.
The next subject is the effectiveness of the social distancing and quarantine. Here there are (PG: i.e. were) so many exceptions that, in view of the contagiousness of the disease, the effectiveness of the measures cannot be certain. The author sees inconsistency in the thinking behind these measures and the exceptions.
There are three categories of damage: material (PG: economic); deaths; lower life expectancy. The author argues his way (tentatively, provisionally) to concluding that the cumulative govt measures taken so far (i.e. 7 May) have cost [in German: destroyed] several million years of life [expectancy].
There follow reflections, with sources, on the interaction between the generations, including how the balance changes as a relatively healthy elderly cohort comes to be in need of care. (Various graphs.)
Further, on this topic, consideration is given to the phase shortly before death. There has been a “compression of morbidity”. This means that, if life expectancy now falls, old people will spend longer in a state of morbidity and will suffer more.
By way of digression, there is discussion of solidarity between generations, dangers in this respect to social cohesion, and of life quality in high age. Discussion too of early retirement, how this is perceived and mortality among working class early retirees.
Chapter 6 is “Evaluation of the Ministerial situation reports (until 7 April 2020)”. It has sections on: Evaluation of the new picture of the situation of the crisis management unit of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Health (from 8 April 2020); Supplementary evaluation of a more recent version of the situation report of the joint crisis management unit BMI-BMG – namely the version of 22 April 2020; Evaluation of the framework objectives on crisis management; Interim weighing up by the Federal government; Would it have been possible or would it be possible to undertake an analysis and evolution of the dangers independently of the situation report of the crisis unit? Digression on exit strategies.
Some of the situation reports mentioned in a certain list are highly confidential and accessible only to a restricted circle. However, they are based on data which is for the most part in the public domain, some at the website of the Robert-Koch Institute.
Criticism of quality of data (gaps in data, changes in reporting categories, inconsistencies / contradictions). The situation reports failed to mirror the dangers presented by the virus to the German population. The same applies to the international figures since like is not compared with like. Use of these figures by the crisis team has generated pressure to take action, with focus on spectacular peak figures. Contrary data was not used, although available.
“Despite the figures for Corona deaths being exaggerated, it can be seen how low the danger is compared with everyday risks to health.”
“Including all deaths of people who were infected among the Corona deaths led (and continues to lead) to a distortion of the perception of the mortality and prevents, among other things, the consequences of the collateral damage being recognised as such.” For example: someone with an infection dies of coronary disease because their planned heart operation cannot take place (i.e. the hospital has postponed the operation due to Corona pressure). This person is not classified as dying from the (collateral) effects of the measures, but as dying from Covid-19.
That is, there is falsification and manipulation of the figures. The persistent problems were acknowledged by the Robert-Koch Institute as early as the beginning of March 2020. A comparison of deaths from the virus and deaths from the counter-measures is prevented.
The author reported these deficits to his superior and to the crisis team on 23 March, together with proposals on how the deficits could be rectified.
There follows detailed presentation of what information is missing in the reports. For example, not only the age range of those dying, but also information on their state of health or morbidity. Reflections follow on the statistical situation in care homes. Graphs are used where it is not certain that some cases are not counted more than once.
The first graph shown here (in the German) shows that the numbers were already falling when the measures were resolved and implemented (i.e. end of March 2020).
The average age is 82, with a range from 26 to 105 years. 1,819 (86%) of deaths were of people aged 70 or more. About 920,000 people die in Germany each year.
The reproduction figure is abstract and is not adequately explained. There follows analysis and criticism of the data provided (or not provided) by the Robert-Koch Institute. The author complains about the absence of figures on the herd spread of the virus.
A comparison is made with the order of magnitude used as a hallmark in the law on cyber security (500,000 citizens).
“In some recent years more than ten times as many people have died from ordinary influenza as so far this year in connection with Corona. What is important though is that, without knowledge of the figures for people who have definitely died from Corona and without knowledge of the herd spread, nothing can be said about the danger to the population!” There is a table comparing influenza deaths in the 2017/2018 outbreak with those from Covid-19 in 2020. (25,000 compared with 5,500 and 1.5 million worldwide from influenza in 2017/18)
This part of the chapter concludes that the data supplied by the Robert-Koch Institute are useless. The evaluations made by the RKI are not supported by the data. They are speculative and to some extent not plausible.
In view of the variety of institutes and experts available, the one-sided use of RKI material is not acceptable. It is imperative to consult different sources, that may compete with each other.
Next there is discussion of the ample capacity for intensive care, of testing capacity, and of the exorbitant cost of tests. PG: Again, some of the invective is directed at the low quality of various reports (i.e. it is explained in which respects the quality is low, with complaints about trivial statements and others which, in concrete terms, are meaningless.)
Some information published by the Govt to justify the measures was useless for any evaluation of the dangers. It was, understandably, therefore interpreted by outsiders as Disinformation. When justified and rational reservations are equated with extremism, this has the effect of making extremism seem harmless. And it discriminates against parts of the population which make use of their reason.
The author now turns to domestic violence, which must be presumed to have increased during the time of the lockdown. It is well known that women’s refuges are full to capacity.
The author proceeds to criticise in detail how the crisis has been handled internally by the governing structures at his Ministry. Again he insists that collateral damage of counter-measures must be set against the damage caused to health directly by the virus. He proceeds to discuss the involvement of the Länder – i.e. the constitutive states of the Federal Republic. And then he comes to the role of the Chancellor, i.e. Angela Merkel. Is this a coordinating role, or one of presentation to the wider public. “The omission of a comprehensive and systematic analysis and evaluation of the dangers has directly impacted the political level and very likely led to seriously wrong decisions.”
On 7 May 2020 an “Interim summing up by the Federal Govt” was published: “Measures by the Federal Government to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and to cope with its consequences” Despite its title, this paper fails to describe the danger from Covid-19. There is no documentation of a systematic weighing-up of measures and their side-effects. The author elaborates his criticism of this report of 22 pages as failing to provide essential information.
The author speculates on whether situation reports have been drawn up elsewhere within the machinery of government but comes to the conclusion that this is not the case.
In no session of the crisis team was there discussion of the total cost of the protective measures or the requirement to issue new debt, nor of the effects on the economy and the labour market. Not even the collateral damage to health was discussed (i.e. non-Covid-deaths).
In a paper of 28 April the RKI reported in the 17th session in connection with the activities of the EU that the reproduction figure R allowed (only) minor inferences to be made about important indices. This finding, which is quite disastrous, is not consistent with what governments have been telling the public.
The author reports, with quotes, on what the political leaders at Federal and Land (state) level claim to be taking into careful consideration in their decision-making; he demonstrates that this claim is not in line with the facts.
He makes the analogy of fighting a fire with the presence of the chief fire officer and the mayor. When on one side of the house a pregnant woman is crying for help and from another part a child is waving it is the fire chief who directs the firefighters. This applies even if it is the mayor’s wife and child who need rescuing.
The author polemises at length about the competence (i.e. unsuitability for the matters in hand) of those taking decisions. He again goes into the complexity, interconnections and feedback loops that are involved.
He ends the chapter with a discussion of exit strategies and the need to avoid undue influence from minority interests. He argues against any slow exit.
Chapter 7: Comparison of the pre-existing knowledge and the real handling of the crisis management 2020. Of course, not everything the crisis management did was wrong, but regrettably what was most important was wrong. Leaving aside the analysis of the danger, the various sections worked well with each other. This applies equally to the Federal authorities and the collaboration between the central government and the Länder. Although the individual constitutive states act independently in implementing decisions, with divergences gradually emerging, there were no solo actions but a very similar approach.
The action of other nations was often taken as a prototype although the context is very different. Germany has a much better health infrastructure than other countries and, in particular, its treatment capacity for highly infection diseases is greater than any other country. Its statistics are also more extensive and detailed.
In the Corona pandemic, the knowledge of specialists was tapped right from the outset, however very selectively. The crisis management focussed on isolated sources of information, that was filtered and became the sole criterion for each intervention. Then even the best specialists are of little use. They lack the insight into the complex framework conditions which characterise a political union. A nation encompasses many other specialist areas. Why did the crisis management imagine that the medical experts of the Robert-Koch Institute would – could – have such an overview?
The author criticises the descriptive – qualitative –descriptions used in the risk evaluation, with categories of low, moderate, high and very high, but without quantitative values for probability or extent of damage.
That is, the chancellor and prime ministers of the Länder made their decisions on the basis of a risk evaluation which did not measure scale. .... The RKI does not mention collateral damage even though this involved higher numbers of deaths than from Covid-19.
It may be supposed that in five years at the latest we will be able to classify the various forecasts, opinions and interpretations as closer or more distant from reality. In crisis management we need to listen to as many different opinions, interpretations and forecasts as possible. It is not possible to perform much more than a plausibility check, but this must be done all the more consistently. Further theorising leading to a distinction between inevitable and avoidable mistakes.
A security concept must not rule out hypotheses prematurely. In comparison with the diverse and broad-based discussion among specialists in the Internet, it can be doubted whether the approach taken in the Corona crisis was sufficiently scientific.
The choice of scientists involved seems to have been one-sided. The strong fixation on the RKI and its dismissive attitude to contrary scientific opinion as well as the PR work of the Federal Government led to not all scientific opinions receiving a sufficient hearing.
Measures were taken which became themselves a source of danger.
The crisis team encountered problems with recognising and evaluating causal relationships. In particular, the long-term effects on the resilience and security level of provision of critical services were ignored or were played down by other aspects.
Analyses by KM4 were disregarded or not passed on. The author complains that, despite his submissions, he was not party to the crisis management meetings and so was unable to press the need to take critical infrastructure into consideration or follow up on this. Whereas at the beginning memoranda were disseminated widely, later there were only excerpts about the proceedings. This makes no sense when the smooth running of critical infrastructure must enjoy absolute priority.
An over-dimensioned bow wave of delayed decisions has characterised the crisis management from the beginning. The author refers to missed opportunities in January, February and March. He pleas for an immediate end to contact prohibitions, severe economic restrictions and the suspension of public life.
The author returns to the exercise of 2012. He contrasts the analysis and recommendations made then with the realities of decision-making in 2020. Measures are not taken by the authorities, guidance and coordination is not undertaken by the crisis teams, but the politicians (“politics”) make the decisions and the crisis teams find justifications. The Federal Chancellor and the Prime Ministers of the Länder lead the way although they have (and can have) no competence or experience in operational decision-making in complex crises.
As a result, there is disempowerment of authorities and ministerial staff, who now just try to guess what the political leaders believe and try to conform to their putative wishes.
With regard to drinking water, although there was mention of “bottlenecks” and “supply chains” it was not foreseen that when individual components fail whole systems can collapse. The problem that can be glimpsed on the horizon for the supply of drinking water is a new experience which the exercises and simulations have no ready remedy for.
If one component of critical infrastructure fails, this can cause the collapse of the rest of the system. If the electric power supply seizes up everywhere and more than briefly, the best cyber security is of no use. Similar knock-on effects would follow if the Internet were unavailable. Similarly, for drinking water and food supply.
But, to be realistic, the death of, say, 200,000 inhabitants from a new infection, or indeed the death of one million old-age pensioners, would have almost no effects on the supply of critical infrastructure – nor indeed the functioning of the domestic value creation process, international competitiveness or the stability of the state-sanctioned order.
On the other hand: If, as in the current Corona pandemic, measures originally designed to protect health lead to the destabilisation of the system of critical infrastructure, that can mean the end for our whole society with many millions of deaths and of course the suspension not just of state-sanctioned law and order, but of every order. (The author reiterates the need to weigh up health hazards against the effects of protective measures.)
The author comments on the role of the Chancellor. He concedes that, despite her lack of transparency, she has been well received by the media and the broad population. There are three reasons to look at this more closely. Firstly, popularity is no guarantee and not even a criterion for right decisions. Consideration of popularity introduces a rogue element, which creates susceptibility to bad decisions. Secondly, being able to obtain excessive approval and acceptance even for nonsense represents a great peril for our polity. Thirdly, the almost entirely positive reaction of the media in particular to every activity of the Chancellor, whatever she had just announced and how and with which timing she presented her position on specific questions as being without an alternative, or indeed changed, confirms negative prejudices about the press. The greater part of the (free) press appears more or less useless as a corrective to misguided developments, e.g. to a suboptimal crisis management.
In the perspective of the state as a whole, this must be regarded as a warning signal. It is highly to be recommended that when the legal or other framework conditions are amended, the aim must be for greater independence and ability to criticise. There is virtually no likelihood that the press might criticise the govt unjustly, with one voice, and use its influence to trigger changes in the constellation of political power. The danger is very high that the population will believe everything they get served up by most of the media, and adopt this as their own position.
In the risk analysis of 2012, the simulation of the pandemic was contributed by the RKI. In this scenario game the data supplied were taken as fact and were not questioned since no participant needed to ask how exactly or realistically the data had been generated. This made practical sense in an exercise, which by its nature rests on hypotheses and where there would otherwise be an indefinite and so unmanageable number of scenarios.
In the Corona crisis the crisis management has conducted itself as if it were still playing out an exercise: it has not queried the substance (content) of highly specific medical input. It cut itself off from proposals, stimuli and demands from outside.
Since now all measures and crisis communication to the public rest on one-sided or very imperfect (“suboptimal”) factual input, all measures and decisions taken by the crisis management are likely themselves to be suboptimal. This also means that in this, the biggest crisis the Federal Republic of Germany has ever faced, the state has possibly been the biggest producer of fake news (“fake news” in the German), against which it has claimed to campaign. This means that it has contributed to an important support potential for overcoming the crisis being blocked.
The two advantages of the situation:
1. We have gathered experience with a crisis. If we reflect on these experiences promptly we can still learn from the errors that were made.
2. Whereas with Corona we had to do with a danger whose origins and workings were unknown, in encountering new dangers for critical infrastructure (and beyond) we have available full knowledge of the triggers and maximum control over the instruments set in motion by the crisis.
Chapter 8: Interim Evaluation.
The data basis used by the crisis management was and remains unsuitable for an evaluation of the dangers to our society. Fixation on health parameters has distorted perception of extensive effects in other societal areas.
In particular, the situation reporting did not contain any systematic collection and collation of long-term dangers to critical infrastructure as a whole. The author expands on this, essentially repeating points made elsewhere, and then draws attention to obstacles arising from the (German) legal framework, which threatens to take on a dynamic of its own. The remainder of this chapter addresses failures of the internal workings of the crisis management.
Chapter 9: Formal decision [Beschluss = resolution] of the Chancellor with the heads of the constitutive states (“Länder”) on 22 March 2020 in the context of the findings of this analysis
The only reasoning provided for the measures and restrictions on civil rights was that the rapid spread was of concern. There was no word on how the Federal government or the state governments or other authorities (crisis teams, RKI...) assessed the danger. Nothing is said about the nature of the danger of the Corona virus. The author quotes: “The rapid spread of the Corona virus (SARS-CoV-2) in recent days in Germany is alarming. We must do everything to prevent an uncontrolled rise in cases and keep our health system functioning. For this, a reduction in contacts is decisive.” (22 March 2020)
Any number of questions remain unanswered, such as what is meant by “number of cases” and what the number of cases says about the peril. The description of speed of spread as “rapid” is questionable too. At the time there was no evidence of a dangerous spread. Such spread as there was provided no criterion for dangerousness. According to the RKI on 22 March there were only 18,610 “cases” (0.2 per thousand of the population) and 55 fatalities (0.0006 per thousand of the population).
The governmental heads name two goals to avert the feared danger:
1. Prevent an uncontrolled rise in numbers of cases
2. Maintain the performance (“ability to perform”) of the health system
It is clear that one of these goals, initially named as of equal rank, had priority, namely to check the rise in number of cases. The effects on the health system as a whole of the measures taken were not monitored, nor were they taken into consideration – that is, it was accepted that the regulations imposed would lead to operations being cancelled or postponed and to mortalities; it was, further, accepted that hospitals and convalescent homes would struggle to survive economically. This obviously has implications for the capacity to provide healthcare.
The resolution concedes that the measures taken are drastic. This is because, the explanation goes, that, in view of the legally protected right [“Rechtsgut”] of protection of the health of the population, the measures are appropriate / reasonable [“verhältnismäßig”] – although there was no serious examination of the proportionality.
The preceding analysis [PG: i.e. the Corona paper so far] demonstrates that no examination of proportionality can have been performed. The author continues in the same vein. There is a quote from a govt statement similar to those reproduced above. Govt blabla thanking all & sundry for their compliance.
The author quotes from a govt proclamation “The Corona virus is spreading in Germany. This is a very serious situation, It is imperative to stop the spread of the Corona virus. For this reason there are rules how people in German must behave.”
No explanation was given for the measures.
Chapter 10: Current and coming effects on the area of Critical Infrastructures. IT security; Dangers for the provision of drinking water
Attention is drawn to the ramifications of work from a home office. Decentralisation from company premises to home working eases the way for cyber criminals. Not least, because the sense of fear instilled in the population gives cyber criminals an opening to exploit. The restrictive measures hinder IT specialists in performing their protective tasks. The author elaborates on the dangers presented here.
Dangers for the provision of drinking water: The author elaborates the nature of these dangers, how essential drinking water is, the inadequacies of any emergency measures that are available, and – importantly – points out that, in order to save money, the water supply system is increasingly fully automatic and therefore dependent on a power supply and Internet. Hence there has been an increase in vulnerability. The author was alone in warning against this development.
The translator and summariser is amused at the statement about the legal obligations of the state or, more precisely, the local authorities, to supply drinking water, and mention of the legal liability of the officials concerned. There is description of the resort to water trucks and scarce hand-operated wells. Already, the supply of drinking water in parts of Germany is in danger.
Chapter 11. What must be done?
The focus is on critical infrastructure. The author pleads (again) for changes in the (organisation of) crisis management. There has been a loss of resilience. What is desirable is to restore the conditions (of life, or work) prior to the crisis.
The aim must be for as little change as possible. Major changes that have not been planned in an organic process, mean for critical infrastructure instability and uncalculable risks. It is not known whether the measures taken for health protection are necessary.
There is a need to develop a hierarchy of priorities for various exceptions to the general clampdown. The author pleads for more staff in this connection. At the very least, the central govt has an obligation to coordinate things.
Recommendations for the crisis team (the author demands administrative and/or organisational improvements).
The crisis is not over when viral infections are largely eliminated. There is repair work to be done. More invective against the fixation on immediate medical aspects alone. Plea for diversity in obtaining advice. Situation reports must have a short and a long version.
The crisis team must neutralise the influence of lobbies and other special interest groups. There can be no question of any considerations other than those serving the common good.
There must be an end not only to the measures but above all the mood that is still being communicated by public bodies and the media. This sense of panic must be terminated forthwith. Parts of the general population will have been not simply burdened, but traumatised by the measures imposed in recent weeks, and this – lengthier – part of the crisis will prove to be much harder to cope with than the first.
It is not possible simply to terminate the panic at a certain point in time and re-open normality. Normal life cannot be re-instated as simply as measures can be decreed. The fears, and especially the irrational fears and the consequent changes in behaviour, will not disappear automatically when the measures are relaxed. The experiences some people have made in recent weeks have crystallised in their hearts and the consequences cannot yet be predicted. How will the children and youth have been affected? It is not every reaction to the suspension of a readily anticipated normality that is visible, displaying vehemence or storm. In some cases it will fester. Some will fall sick, others will retain a deep distrust of other people and of state institutions. Much will happen sub-consciously and without the rest of the world noticing, which does not mean that it is any less poisonous. What does it all mean for the force of innovation of our young generation, who we are dependent on?
The most difficult task will be to restore lost trust. Trust in a state that is reliably protective and therefore can on occasion legitimately enforce interventions and restrictions. This state has failed grotesquely. In order to restore trust, it must admit its errors and work these through. Otherwise, the state and its political system may not be forgiven its systemic errors.
There is an alternative, however one that is not in the interests of the broad masses, but serves those of individuals and groups. Politicians [PG: In German the talk is always of “Politik” as an abstract noun, rather than of the political representatives who are meant] might attempt to defend themselves. The administration [not in the US sense, but meaning the civil service] might support them by changing the presentation of statistics to “demonstrate” that everything was done rightly. In this alternative, further use would be made of the disquiet and fear of many people, critical voices would be intimidated, and there would be a gamble on social pressure to conform. This option conceals great danger equally for society and the people who choose it.
Every crisis has its profiteers, which is not always wrong. But these people will try to impose their particular interests, possibly against the public good. They must be repelled.
The return to normality means, too, that long-standing projects must be curtailed unless they serve the return to normality. They will have lost their purpose and will tie up resources. In considering any project that it is proposed to continue one should become clear that the resources necessary for it must be paid for from the diminished capital of civil society and that, first, the economy must generate those resources.
One of the largest items is the intensification of digital communication and interaction technologies, whether for distance-workers, virtual classrooms or novel services for citizens and companies, for which temporarily the security requirements were reduced. The continued pursuit of this development means not only a sharp transformation of everyday culture, but also greater dependency than to date on critical infrastructure as well as a gradual loss of protection of personal privacy rights (with regard to data about the person and dangers of fraud, misuse and manipulation). We would further weaken our civil society in a phase of lower societal resilience. Here, too, the attempt of politicians may be great not to disappoint the expectations of business partners. And here too it becomes apparent that the future of our society depends on the conscience of our politicians, to whom in a democracy we award during their time in office a great deal of autonomy and de-facto power.
Summary by Paul Charles Gregory completed on 21 May 2020