Germans hear little of China’s aid

By Gunter Schoech Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/19 19:38:40


Medical materials from China arrive at the Liege airport in Belgium, on Wednesday. A batch of 1 million donated medical masks were flown in Belgium on Wednesday, en route to France. The medical supply was mobilized by two Chinese charities to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Xinhua

On March 16, several Chinese friends asked me if I had heard of the relief effort to Italy by the Red Cross Society of China, which had sent a 30-ton planeload of medical materials and nine specialists. The materials included desperately needed respirators and masks.

Although I follow the press closely in my native Germany, I had not heard this news. I asked myself why? We are overwhelmed with breaking news these days, but where was this story?

I found it after a quick search in English. It was covered by Reuters, which many news outlets in Germany usually pick up. In the German press, however, there were only scant mentions in little known outlets and in the German-speaking Southern Tyrol, which is part of Italy.

The German Manager Magazin covered the donation of 2 million masks by Alibaba to European countries in a matter-of-fact way, but Handelsblatt Today, framed the action by the Red Cross Society of China as an act of propaganda.

This spin perhaps explains why we also see relatively little news coverage of China's assistance. What does it say about Europe if it needs help from China of all places? Losing face is a notion less important in the West than in China, but that doesn't mean it doesn't play an important role.

When China reported the spiking curve of COVID-19 infections had begun to flatten again, some pundits questioned the data coming from China, as so often have.

It has now become clear that there is no denying it: Had China not effectively curbed the virus spread, and had China dealt with it as other countries had, it would have had 200 million cases.

The tide was turned in China, which has to start the battle on its own. We should be thankful for any humanitarian aid, and Italy has a manifest shortage of materials and manpower. Instead, Europe is just about to leave its own state of denial. 

It feels like only yesterday when politicians told us that our healthcare system is well prepared. The very first cases seemed to underscore this confidence. They were tracked back to patient zero, and patients recovered. We felt safe. We took the outbreak as yet another of those problems in faraway countries with densely packed populations, exotic eating habits and less effective healthcare systems.

But then, new cases were impossible to track and the population was informed that eventually, two thirds of Germans will be infected. All efforts were about flattening the curve, so hospitals can cope by avoiding a spike in the number of patients. That was a dramatic change in expectations.

Germany today, relative to its population, already has one and half time more cases than China.

The world's governments are not adopting measures modeled after the Chinese containment effort with self-quarantining and sealing off provincial borders and cities and communities.

Until recently news reporting in Germany stressed "draconian measures" in China, referring to the lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei and quarantining millions, which only an authoritarian government could deploy, and were "impossible" here. Now we see Italy employing similar measures, while in Germany different federal states adopt different measures, including school closures and cancelling mass assemblies. While Italy was beginning to be rushed by the virus, we in Germany still had soccer games with spectators, and bars remained open.

Around that time, European solidarity was questioned. On March 4, the German government restricted the export of masks, hazmat suits and gloves. This included exports to other EU countries which endangered lives there. The EU Commission decided recently to ban exports from the EU, and Germany promised to send 1 million masks to Italy. Italy rightfully feels a lack of European solidarity, just as it did when so many refugees landed on its shores. China at this time is already in a position again start exporting necessary medical supplies.

It's terrible to see a human tragedy being used as a propaganda tool. We can ill afford to play these games. The virus cares nothing of a person's passport, race or their country's political system.

Instead of coordinating stimulus measures for markets, that were in need of deflating, we should coordinate humanitarian aid for the human race. Italy is the world eighth largest economy with significant industry. Unfortunately, there will be many more countries in even greater despair. The world must pool its scientific, production and logistics resources to overcome the worst pandemic in 100 years. It's no time for shortsighted partisan maneuvering.   

The author is founder and managing director of market research and consulting company Débrouillage Ltd.



Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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