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Coronavirus: Why Germany needs to go on lockdown now, and what you can do to help.

Panic is bad, but overreaction is good.

Dominik Nitsch
9 min read
Coronavirus: Why Germany needs to go on lockdown now, and what you can do to help.
Painting of an Italian kindergarten child. Translation: “Everything’s going to be alright.” Source: La Stampa

I believe Germany needs to go on lockdown. Now.

We live in extraordinary times. Never in my life have I experienced that toilet paper was sold out, stadiums empty, all athletic activities canceled. I’ve been around for 26 years, but it has never been this bad.

In the past decades, we’ve weathered lots of things. The world didn’t end when the Mayan calendar did, the economy recovered after the financial crisis of 2009, and we’ve survived swine flu, Ebola, influenza, to name a few.

The Coronavirus is different. And we’re starting to see it all over the world. Here’s what I think.

This article will refer a lot to the concepts explained in Tomas Pueyo’s excellent post about the Coronavirus that you can read here:

Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now
Politicians and Business Leaders: What Should You Do and When?

I will also include my personal observations. Our company Linguedo brings nurses from Italy to Germany, so we may have a few additional insights into the situation in Italy as well as into the German health system.

Graph of infections in Germany, as of March 14th, 2020. Source.

What you see here, dear friends, is an exponential graph. Two days ago, Germany was at less than 2,000 infections; now we already have more than 3,000 — and it’ll get worse. A lot worse.

Project this graph a few days into the future, based upon the given data. You’ll get a very, very high number.

And those are only the reported cases. There are many more people out there who have also been infected. Hell, you and I could have the virus and not even know it yet.

It takes a few days (2–14) for the virus to show its symptoms, which is when you get tested. Let’s assume it takes on average 7 days after infection for the case to be discovered.

This means that the real number of Coronavirus cases in Germany is a lot higher.

Project the above graph 7 days into the future, and you can approximate the real number of cases in Germany.

Let’s do a little math: In order to determine an exponential function from 2 points on a graph, you need to plug those two points into the formula

y = a * b^x

We’ll take Februar 24th as our starting point, when the number of infections in Germany was 14. Therefore, the starting point is (0 | 14). The other point is today (March 14th), with 3,100 infections. Our second point on the graph is (19 | 3100).

When you plug in those values and solve the equations, you end up with the following function:

f(x) = 14 * 1.33^x

In order to determine the number of confirmed cases in 7 days, we simply have to plug in a new X, in this case 26 (= today + 7), which leaves us with 22,667 cases.

This is, highly approximately, the number of cases we have in Germany today. Tomorrow, we will have 30,911 actual cases. And the day after, 41,112.

But there’s hope …

There are measures that can be taken to contain the spread of the virus. China has set a great example.

The orange dots describe China’s confirmed cases. Source.

The orange dots represent confirmed cases in China. As soon as the curve started growing exponentially, China enforced measures and enforced them hard, as only the Chinese can. And very soon, the exponentiality flipped. Instead of growing in a convex manner, it became a concave function. Today, there are almost no new confirmed infections.

How did they do that?

By locking down the country.

On January 23rd, the city of Wuhan was locked down completely. At that point, they had only 400 confirmed cases, but the authorities made a decision and enforced them thoroughly. The day after, 15 more cities were locked down. Shortly thereafter, everyone went on government-mandated vacation for two weeks, and everything stood still.

The result: the spread of the virus was contained.

The same things happened in other Asian countries, where lockdowns were enforced rigorously. No problems here.

Well, and then there’s Europe. We love our democracy, our freedom, and live in non-authoritarian countries.

And now we have a problem.

Last week, I was supposed to go to Rome. Around 50 nurses wanted to be interviewed for a position in a German hospital, to come here and help us open the ICU beds that we so badly need here — even without the Coronavirus.

We didn’t go. Italy was too risky, and the hospital leadership didn’t want to expose themselves to the virus.

Now, Italy is a ghost country. Nobody is on the street. Everything, except for grocery stores and pharmacies, is closed. People are hanging out through FaceTime and Skype, doing their typical aperitivo digitally. Meanwhile, the hospitals are at war, and people are dying in hallways.

Why all that? Because the Italian government did the only right thing: they locked down the country. But they didn’t do it soon enough.

Now, the health system is overloaded with patients. Italy has a crazy high mortality rate, and that’s because they cannot treat everyone. They have to triage: decide who gets the CPAP mask and who doesn’t, and will correspondingly live or die.

I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of any doctor in Italy right now.

However, I strongly believe that a week from today, we’ll be able to observe a significant decline in confirmed cases in Italy, thanks to the lockdown.

So why aren’t we doing it in Germany?

Right now, the hospitals still have capacities. Germany has 28,000 ICU beds on paper, which is the highest density of ICU beds in Europe. But you cannot assume that all 28,000 ICU beds can be operated, due to lack of staff.

Let’s assume 5% of Coronavirus patients need an ICU bed. At the current pace, if we go into lockdown on Monday with 41k actual cases, we’d only need approximately 2,000 ICU beds for Corona patients. That sounds somehow feasible, but is already going to be difficult. After all, these ICU beds aren’t empty, but most ICUs in Germany operate at full capacity even during normal times.

But let’s say we don’t lock down for another week. Then we 302k cases in Germany, with 15k patients needing ICU beds. There is no way in hell we can handle that.

So right now, the highest priority should be to contain the spreading of the virus.

We won’t be able to stop the Coronavirus, or be able to make it go away — at least right now. But we are able to stop the fast spreading, which will allow us to take care of patients, and to thus save lives.

And if the government isn’t doing what they need to do, then we need to take matters into our own hands.

Lock yourself down.

The spreading of the virus can be broken down to two factors: large groups of people and lack of hygiene.

Therefore, all we need to do is to prevent large groups from forming, and wash our damn hands.

How do you prevent large groups from forming?

It’s simple. You don’t go.

  • Got a company to run? Don’t go to the office, but work from home instead.
  • Organizing a house party? Cancel it.
  • Practicing a serious sport? I guess you’re not anymore. Practice is canceled.
  • Wanna go out and drink? Just don’t. You can also drink at home, and having a few (a few!) friends over won’t hurt.

Confine yourself to your apartment for a few weeks, and everything should be better.

We need to fight the Coronavirus together, as society. It’s time to step up, and to bring our contribution. Aside of not attending social gatherings and practicing good hygiene, there are a few more things you can do:

Help the medical workers

First and foremost, help out anyone working in the medical system in any way you can! Doctors and nurses are our most important people right now, so help them make sure they can do their job properly.

One example on how you can support them: our neighbor is a nurse, and she has a little daughter. But kindergarten is closed. Since my co-founder and I are working from home (we live together), we offered to take the girl in, so our neighbor can do the work she needs to do. We cannot afford to lose anyone working in hospitals simply due to the fact that they don’t know what to do with their child while at work!

Support the elderly

Next, take care of the elderly and sick. While the virus isn’t that lethal for most young people with a solid immune system, the danger is a lot higher for elderly people. Help them by picking up groceries for them, running errands, and anything else you can do so they don’t have to expose themselves to the risk of infection.

Remember the children … and their parents

Then, help out with children. All schools and kindergartens are closed, but the parents still need to work. If you work from home and have capacity, take care of a child. Could be a good exercise for when you’re planning to become a parent yourself. ;)

Keep calm

Lastly, keep calm and stop buying fucking toilet paper (!!!). The world isn’t going to end, nor will toilet paper become an alternate currency (or will it?). Also, we’re really running low.

Panic is bad, overreaction is good.

Having read all this, please keep one thing in mind: don’t panic. It’s going to be alright in the end, if we take the appropriate measures. Containing the virus is inside our control, and even if you contract it, chances are fairly high you will survive.

The world may go into a recession, we may have a few deaths, but in the big picture, everything’s going to be alright.

Federico agrees:

That being said, it’s perfectly fine to overreact. Ramit Sethi puts a lot of emphasis on this in his recent blog post:

Coronavirus: Panic is bad, but overreaction is good - I Will Teach You To Be Rich
How do you handle a crisis? The IWT philosophy is to front-load the work, prepare for the best - and worst - and have a…

Many people right now are buying non-perishable food in large quantities. While I sometimes have to smirk about the ridiculous amounts of pasta one can buy, I do think it’s the right approach.

What if you buy 5kg of pasta and nothing happens? Well, then you have 5kg of pasta that won’t go bad anytime soon and that you’ll eat eventually.

But what if shit hits the fan and you don’t have any food at home? Then you have a problem.

Here are a few examples of how I overreacted in the past days:

  • We sent everyone working for our company to the home office. We don’t have much to lose by doing so, and productivity losses won’t harm the business that much, given the fact that neither in Germany nor in Italy we can get any meaningful work done right now.
  • At our Lacrosse club, we decided to stop all practice activities until April 20th. Do I miss practice already? Hell yeah. But it’s the sensible thing to do, and something I can do for society as a whole.
  • We bought a solid stash of pasta, canned beans, rice, frozen veggies, lentils, eggs. That stuff isn’t gonna go bad, but if shit hits the fan, we’re gonna feast.
  • I’m invited to probably the most legendary house party Germany will witness this year next weekend. And I’m not going to go. I just don’t think it’s responsible to have a large gathering with 350 people right now. Will I miss a crazy party? For sure. But I’m going to do what it takes to contain the virus spread, and I urge you to do the same.
  • I wrote a blogpost about the topic, to inform everyone who reads it about. Information is the key to victory.

All these measures won’t hurt me by any means — but they will certainly help in containing the spread.

I’m pulling all the levers I can in order to contain the spread. It’s what I can do. You can laugh about it or think it’s insane — I believe it’s the right thing to do.

What can you do?

We’re in this together. It’s up to you, to every single one of you, including you, dear reader, to fight the spread of the Coronavirus.

Try to keep your social distance. Stay at home. Wash your damn hands. And please, don’t be stupid.

Will you?

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