While Italy is getting a grip on Corona digitally and efficiently, the alleged organizational wonderland Germany is surprised and overwhelmed by the fourth wave. “I had to explain a new German word to my friends in Italy,” says an Italian who lives in Frankfurt: “Schwurbeln”.
That can’t be true: Italy does something better than Germany? In Milan, Rome and Naples there is astonishment in disbelief. Except in football, where the Italians are always sure to beat Germany, south of the Alps there is a good deal of respect for the “German” ability to deal with problems quickly. In the fourth wave, however, a different picture emerges.
Even Paola Concia, a former member of the Italian parliament who has been living in Frankfurt am Main for some time, cannot believe it: “That turns everything upside down. Actually, Italy has always been the unstable country that does not obey the rules. As an Italian who lives in Germany, I am shocked. The country has given itself over to a small minority of ‘NoVax’. “
The former Italian MP is flabbergasted, like many Italians. The fact that this country, of all places, submits to the opponents of the vaccine with full eyesight does not correspond to their image of Germany. “I had to explain a new German word to my friends in Italy: Schwurbeln.”
The development of the first vaccine against the coronavirus by the Mainz company Biontech was yet another example of German proficiency. What a success story that Özlem Türeci and Uğur Şahin wrote with Katalin Karikó! Germany has been celebrated for this all over the world: Together with Pfizer, the saving material comes from Germany.
At the beginning of the crisis, the cliché still seemed to be true
Initially, many Italians thought the catastrophic infection and death rates reported in the fourth wave from Germany to Italy were anti-German fakes. Because in Italy the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020 has not been forgotten. The picture of the perfect Germans seemed to be correct.
In Italy’s industrial metropolis Bergamo, the city’s crematoria couldn’t keep up with the cremation of the Covid dead. “We had to stack hundreds of coffins and then the Italian military helped remove them,” said Bergamo’s Mayor Giorgio Gori, recalling the terrible months. At that time, the Bundeswehr helped and flew dozens of seriously ill patients to Airbus hospitals in Germany, saving many lives. At the end of the first wave, 45,000 people had died in Italy, and far fewer in Germany.
Germany seemed to be the shining example in corona management. The main advantage of the Federal Republic of Germany was that Italy was always ten days ahead of the pandemic. The German decision-makers simply had to look to Italy to find out what would happen to them ten days later. Hygiene rules, distance and then a general lockdown. In Italy it lasted until the end of May. The pandemic appeared to be over. In the second and third waves, all EU countries made the same mistakes.
Italy is also organized on a federal basis; the health care system is in the hands of the regions, which defend their competence to the nearest millimeter. The government laboriously agreed a “traffic light” system of lockdowns and bans on contact with the regions. “Red” corresponded to the complete lockdown, orange-yellow and green were the easier variants. Today Italy is “white”, without lockdowns – but with a mask requirement.
With the “German” and without STIKO
It was wise right from the start not to bind the Italian traffic light rules to incidences alone, but to twenty different criteria, of which the hospitalization rate, the number of intensive care beds used and the so-called R-value of the growth rate are the most important. As the government’s official corona advisor, there is a committee made up of virologists, epidemiologists and intensive care physicians, a kind of flying RKI – but no STIKO, whose decisions politicians would have to wait weeks for. Not a small advantage as we know today.
With the availability of the vaccine from spring 2021, the situation in Italy changed drastically. Former ECB boss Mario Draghi has been ruling Rome since autumn 2020: first-class networked, a real all-rounder, a perfect organizer. In Italy Draghi is called “the German”.
In March, Draghi appointed the chief logistician of the Italian army, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, to be the boss of vaccine distribution. Everything should go super fast and, above all, digitally. The promise was kept with military precision: the data management was carried out by the national tax administration SOGEI, also digitally and efficiently.
After vaccination, everyone who has been vaccinated receives an SMS on their mobile phone or an email immediately, within minutes, which contains a link to their personal vaccination certificate, which they can then print out. Anyone who has the Italian Corona warning app “Immuni” will find the certificate in the app.
The Italian success is explained by the mixture of perfect logistics, fast vaccination offer – practically only via vaccination centers – and strict legal regulations. In the first wave, thousands of residents in care facilities died as the virus was carried into the facilities by infected staff. In Bergamo it was often – at the time still unsuspecting – doctors who had spread the corona. That shouldn’t happen again.
In Italy, for example, from May onwards, when there was a sufficient number of vaccines, all hospital employees, regardless of whether they are medical or nursing staff, must be vaccinated. In October this compulsory vaccination was extended to all care facilities. Anyone who refuses to be vaccinated without a valid medical reason will be released without a salary. In Lombardy alone there were almost 500 people who sued in court, but have always lost so far: The protection of infection for the general population takes precedence over personal freedom not to want to be vaccinated, the courts ruled.
In the Italian hospitals, less than one percent of the 300,000 employees have refused to be vaccinated. Some companies, including Siemens, have introduced compulsory vaccinations. Since October 15, the 3G rule has been in place at all workplaces: from large companies to corner cafés to small taxis. This affects 23.5 million employees in Italy, of which a good 2 million are still not vaccinated. When this rule came into force, you saw long queues in front of the pharmacies: if you want to work, you have to be tested every two days – although the tests were never free in Italy.
Even the Lega no longer protests
There were demonstrations, including violent ones, such as the storming of the CGIL union headquarters in Rome. But when it became clear that behind the protests were mainly neo-fascist organizations, even Matteo Salvini’s League distanced itself from this type of protest.
Salvini, whose party is a member of Draghi’s government, had initially tried to defend “freedom” against 3G and the mask requirement. But in the north, their own regional presidents drove their party leader into the parade. They didn’t want protests, they wanted low incidences, “because that’s the only way we can keep the factories open”, as Carlo Bonomi, president of the business association “Confindustria”, said. The last protests against 3G and mask compulsory took place in Trieste, with the result that the number of infections skyrocketed there. Italy’s Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese imposed stricter rules for demonstrations. Without a mask, for example, it is no longer possible to protest, and rallies can also be banned in lively inner-city districts.
The effect of mandatory masking and nationwide 3G, which was introduced at an early stage, could be seen in the number of hospital admissions due to Corona in August and September: From over 1000 people per month, this fell to a third after the introduction of 3G – and that despite the vaccination rate in Italy with 75 percent is not much higher than in Germany. But it is this mixture of different measures, also called the “Swiss Cheese Method” by epidemiologists, that works well and has prevented lockdowns so far.
And since there is no STIKO whose recommendations doctors could follow, booster vaccinations are already being offered to people over 60 in Italy if six months have passed since the last vaccination. From December 1st it will be the turn of those over 40 years of age. Italy learned from Israel, where the third vaccination helped break the fourth wave.
In the meantime, the incidences and the number of deaths are also rising again in Italy, but they are significantly lower than in Germany. There is hardly any protest: the success of the “German” s hard hand is too clear. This makes what is happening in Germany all the more incomprehensible for the Italians. Paola Concia therefore appeals to her new compatriots: “Wake up at last. And take an example from Italy.”