BERLIN — I experienced everything that the coronavirus pandemic had to throw at us: health problems, private irritation, responsible behavior, restrictions on personal freedom, endless patience and financial issues. From contracting coronavirus last April and being ill for a long time to receiving my vaccination, I've been through it all.
Now I want my life back, straight away, without any drawn-out discussions with people arguing that fairness means treating everyone the same. And without government interference or anyone trying to make me feel guilty towards those who haven't yet been vaccinated. I'm not asking for any special treatment, just a return to normality, where the restrictions no longer apply to me because I can neither carry or spread the disease. It's very simple.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers came together to discuss the path forward. They are treating this like a political issue, when the answer should be self-evident. Normality is not something to be negotiated. They are prioritizing sentiment over medical evidence: Consideration for people's feelings is being treated as more important than basic rights.
I'm one of the 20 million Germans for whom the horror of the pandemic is over. We represent around a quarter of the total population. But, along with the 3 million people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have been scientifically proven to pose no threat of infection to others, we are still subject to the same restrictions as everyone else. We are prevented from doing things in order to ward off a danger that we no longer pose, one that can't affect us.
Normality is not something to be negotiated.
We're wearing masks and keeping our distance, although we can't infect others. We have to stay at home in the evenings. We aren't allowed to visit our own holiday homes. We're not allowed to meet up with friends. Why? Because those who haven't yet been vaccinated might feel it's unfair. Yes, that may be true. But lumping everyone together is also unfair.
For 12 months, I was a perfect citizen. In March 2020, I stopped going into the office and started working from home. My family and I were all living on top of each other, trying to find space for work, childcare, leisure time and the dog. My wife home-schooled our older daughter and took care of the younger one.
When I caught the virus — I still don't know how — and Berlin's public health department didn't seem particularly interested, I paid for a private test and self-isolated. When I was finding it hard to breathe, I used my asthma inhaler to alleviate the symptoms — long before there had been any scientific research on this treatment. We didn't go on holiday. We canceled our bookings four times, although we were under a lot of stress and would have benefited from a break. It was a sensible decision, so I don't regret it.
We lost a lot of money due to the restrictions. I'm not questioning them, because I was convinced of their efficacy and the experiences of other countries have shown that they worked. Our house in Marrakech has been empty for the last year. We're getting no rental income from that, or from our house on the island of Usedom, where the caretaker is visiting once a week to turn on the taps and make sure we don't get legionella in the pipes. We've lost out on tens of thousands of euros of income, but of course our costs remain the same.
There is no compensation on offer for private landlords. Of course, I understand that others need the money more. I've made my peace with that. But we weren't even allowed to visit the house ourselves, although my immune system has produced reliable levels of COVID-19 antibodies. I've been tested three times — paying for the tests myself, of course. The last time was a few weeks ago. My older daughter, who got coronavirus at the same time as me and is also immune, still does an antigen test twice a week. It's unpleasant. But bearable.
A person receives a coronavirus vaccination in Osnabrück, Germany. — Photo: Imago/ZUMA
As more and more studies came out that show people who have recovered from coronavirus are immune and pose no threat of infection, our impatience grew. We watched in bewilderment, even resignation, as politicians and ethics committees discussed whether treating everyone the same is more important than restoring freedom to those who have been scientifically proven to be no longer affected by the disease.
But we got on with it. We didn't want to ask for special treatment. We remembered the families of the 80,000 people who have died of coronavirus, so we wore the pointless masks anyway. For a long time that was no problem. But times and circumstances are changing. As the son of an almost 80-year-old mother, and son-in-law and friend of many over 70s, I watched with growing anger as the government completely mismanaged sourcing the vaccines, and all hopes for a swift end to the pandemic vanished.
But then the vaccination program kicked in. Older friends celebrated getting their second dose, and many posted proudly on social media. The program gained momentum, but I wasn't expecting an appointment until summer. Again, I was fine with that. I was immune anyway. And my pre-existing conditions — my asthma and heart problems — were so well managed that I didn't think I'd be in one of the priority groups. I waited my turn.
Then my doctor called and offered me a vaccination appointment. He knows me and my body well, better than I do (and he takes it more seriously) and obviously much better than any government agency. Due to a lack of useful data, the government agencies had to guess the population's age distribution from names. Old-fashioned names like Johann-Friedrich and Helene were at the front of the queue, although nowadays they are just as likely to be middle-class toddlers.
My wife, who was the emergency contact for a pregnant friend, received a code for booking her vaccine, but had to wait two months for an appointment (during which time her friend's pregnancy wasn't put on pause). But I suddenly had a date with BioNTech's wonder drug marking the end of my affair with the virus.
I don't believe there is a "new normal" waiting for us once the pandemic is over.
This is just more proof that the private sector is far more reliable and effective than the government. Germany's doctors are proving that they are the experts when it comes to vaccines, whereas the government program puts a barrier the size of Everest in the way of anyone trying to book an appointment.
I understand it's important to keep an eye on case numbers, and I support the government's measures to avoid an exponential spread of the virus. I also worry that intensive care will be overwhelmed and that doctors will have to make difficult decisions. I see the situation in India and Brazil.
But I also know that closing cinemas and restaurants, concert halls, opera houses and theaters, gyms and massage parlors is extremely painful for customers. For those who make their living from these places, it is sometimes disastrous. We live in testing times, and the poisonous debate over right and wrong only adds fuel to the fire.
I don't believe there is a "new normal" waiting for us once the pandemic is over. I believe we will return to the society we have spent the last 70 years building. Coronavirus isn't a sociological experiment. It's a medical problem that we've had to fight with everything we can.
But those who have won this fight should now be let out of jail. Allowing a fifth of the population to return to normal life would provide a boost to the economy, but that's not the most important factor. The best and least dangerous way of reopening society is giving those who are vaccinated or immune freedom over their lives again straight away, without any ifs or buts.
There are 20 million of us in Germany. And every day there are more.
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