Is it conceivable that you will keep the global travel warning in place for the entire summer?
We can’t say yet. We are reviewing the situation from week to week and will make another decision before 14 June. If we can continue to bring the pandemic in Germany and abroad under control once entry and quarantine rules are relaxed, i.e. when people are not only once again able to fly abroad but can also be sufficiently sure of returning, then we can gradually lift the travel warnings. But we can’t afford to make any snap decisions. We cannot and will not bring a quarter of a million people back from their holidays again in the summer.
Which countries could be the first to have the travel warning lifted?
We want our approach in Europe to be as coordinated as possible. To this end I am speaking daily with many colleagues. Some countries are currently feeling the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others have been able to halt the outbreak at an early stage by taking drastic measures and are concerned that the virus will re-enter their country if they open the borders. That is another reason why I don’t want to exclude the possibility of different solutions for different countries. And of course we must ensure that people can also return home.
How long can Europe afford closed borders?
Not one day longer than necessary. Like every committed European, it pains me to see border guards and barriers again at the heart of the EU. As a man from Saarland, I am well aware of what the current restrictions mean for people living in the border regions. However, when opening the borders, too, we need a controlled and coordinated approach so as not to jeopardise the progress we have made in the fight against the virus, for which all of us have sacrificed our normal lives to some extent in the past few weeks.
Are Germany and other EU countries focusing too much on themselves in the coronavirus crisis?
The truth is that Europe was not sufficiently prepared for this pandemic. In the first few days, many countries, including us, initially had to safeguard their own capability to act. However, Europe has become stronger with each passing day of this crisis. We have now found joint responses in almost all areas: we are cooperating within the EU on procuring medical supplies and conducting research on vaccines. In Germany alone, we have taken in around 230 intensive care patients from Italy, France and the Netherlands. Our repatriation flights have also carried more than 6000 travellers from other EU countries. And within a very short space of time we have mobilised more than half a trillion euros to tackle the crisis. Where else has there ever been such extensive solidarity between countries in a crisis?
Which countries does Germany intend to support most?
We are focusing on two strategic priorities: on the one hand, Africa, where many experts see the greatest need for international assistance. On the other hand, our direct neighbourhood – the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe. The virus will not stop at national borders in the future, either. That is why we are providing assistance to the weaker healthcare systems to help stop the spread of the virus, not only through more than 400 million euros in EU financial support, but also through the expertise of the Robert Koch Institute and help in procuring protective equipment. That is also in our own best interests, otherwise we will find ourselves with a problem right on our doorstep.
And which countries will in turn receive less money?
We can’t afford any blind spots. The logic of the pandemic tells us that we either prevail over the virus worldwide, or not at all. And our success will be determined not with us to any great extent, but among the poorest of the poor. That is why we have pledged 300 million euros in humanitarian assistance to the United Nations, to be used where it is most urgently needed. And that is why on Monday, together with the EU, we are organising the Coronavirus Global Response international pledging conference to pave the way for the fair global distribution of protective equipment, tests, medicines and vaccines.
Conjecture on the origin of the virus is still rife. What is your view of the theory that it did not originate at the fish market, as the Chinese leadership maintains, but in a state laboratory in Wuhan? Should Beijing provide information on that?
The whole world has an interest in ensuring that the precise origin of the virus is revealed. Yet scientists and not politicians are the ones who must provide sound responses to that question. Here, China has the chance to demonstrate how transparent it is actually prepared to be in dealing with the Virus.