You are a member of the corona crisis cabinet. How grim is the atmosphere?
The present situation is serious – that is clear to everyone. We are talking intensively and very frequently so that we as the Federal Government can do what is necessary in this crisis. We are basing our decisions on the advice of the experts. Every ministry is working full-out, with weekend shifts too. In the crisis cabinet, we pool and coordinate the planned measures.
Other countries are imposing a general lockdown. Can Germany afford not to do that?
I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of the population is taking the situation very seriously. They are acting responsibly and showing solidarity. That goes for the vast majority, the invisible majority – invisible on the streets. But this weekend in particular it is vital that everyone accepts the restrictions so that they can actually have an effect. We are following this constantly – a huge challenge in such a rapidly changing situation. Fortunately, however, we have substantial expertise here in Germany, and we are willing to adapt our behaviour. We will do what is effective and what is necessary.
There is increasing criticism of the lack of a uniform approach within the EU; some people are talking about it being a hotchpotch. Are they entirely wrong in saying that?
Over the past few days and weeks, national emergency measures have been introduced in very rapid succession, for instance at the EU’s internal borders. And that is understandable in such a crisis, the aim being to stop the spread of the virus. However, it is also clear that introducing successive measures like that also leads to problems. That is why we urgently need the necessary fine-tuning in Europe now. The emergency measures will be coordinated in Brussels and adjusted if required. I have been in contact with many of my colleagues in recent days, and we are all pursuing the same objective.
One example would be our rescue flights: initially, all the EU member states started to fetch their citizens home independently – that all had to get going. Now we are also registering our flights in a European system; that makes things more efficient. If we have the capacity, we will take citizens of other EU countries too. By the same token, Germans can be carried on rescue flights organised by other countries. By coordinating like this, we can get all Europeans back home much more quickly.
What’s the result of border closures – other than a break in the supply chains?
We want to slow down the virus, not the transportation of goods. Border closures are serious measures, and no one in Europe takes them lightly. Nevertheless, they are needed at this time to stop the spread of the coronavirus. There are many examples of how the virus has spread across borders and then been further spread within communities. The virus knows only those limitations we set for it. To that end, we need joint, coordinated, if at all possible seamless action.
The Federal Government will do everything in its power to prevent disruptions in the supply chains. The supply chains need to be maintained so that we have the energy to get through this hard time together. This is of the utmost importance, especially for a strong exporter like Germany.
Would an airlift be conceivable for foodstuffs or hygiene products?
Germany’s supply of food and hygiene products is safe. That’s precisely why panic-buying doesn’t make sense. On the contrary. Panic-buying is leading to temporary shortages in individual supermarkets. So more people who are trying to get what they need are having to go to the supermarket more frequently. This is counterproductive when it comes to slowing down the spread of the virus. What’s needed now is solidarity; every single citizen counts.
The Federal Foreign Office is organising rescue flights for holidaymakers stranded abroad. When will they all be back in Germany?
We want to offer German citizens who are stranded abroad the chance to return to Germany as quickly as possible. We are working all-out on this. In cooperation with the travel industry associations and air companies, we have managed to get over 100,000 Germans home since the beginning of the week. Many more have registered and are waiting for flights.
Unfortunately we cannot provide immediate help in every instance. We want to help as many people as possible as quickly as possible – obviously taking account of special emergency situations. Often we are facing major challenges just to get the people to the airport. Domestic travel has come to a standstill in many countries too. We have to join up lots of puzzle pieces. Our embassies and consulates are working tirelessly day and night to find pragmatic solutions for all concerned.