- The coronavirus pandemic can be confusing and concerns about its economic impact are warranted.
- However, the current blocking measures are the right call to check the coronavirus.
- Mathias Döpfner is CEO of Axel Springer SE, the parent company of Insider Inc.
- This is a column of opinion. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
Shut down. Break. Silent. The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed our everyday lives. A necessity. However, this state of emergency must come to an end. Soon.
I had wanted to write for days, but hesitated. Because I have doubts. And because I'm not sure what's right. Because as an asthmatic, I would be considered a so-called "risk patient". And because I am responsible for 16,500 employees. And for whatever reactions this text evokes.
I listened carefully to what the virologists and epidemiologists have to say. The governments follow their recommendations. I find this unlimited power too free of alternatives because the experts do not have the mandate of the voters.
And yet they indirectly decide which measures the government orders. Anyone who can count to three knows that the global economy and our society cannot survive such a standstill for even a few months.
My opinion has fluctuated in recent weeks. Sometimes I fall asleep angry. Angry at my fear of the virus because I can't tell you how dangerous it really is
The corona virus mainly affects older people and people with an existing illness. Doesn't that mean that measures should particularly apply to people in these risk groups? While everyone else is going about their life and business as usual?
If we take a closer look, we actually know very little about the virus. There is evidence that a large number of cases go undetected. How high is this number in Europe, where far fewer tests are carried out than in other parts of the world? And what does a statistic say about mortality?
I get annoyed when politicians try to outdo each other in their competition to see who can take the strictest measures. Who is the fastest to pass emergency laws? Behind closed doors, some of them speak in a different tone and feel that they cannot speak openly in the current atmosphere. This worries me because people don't seem to think about the consequences. I am concerned that our open and liberal society could be damaged by good intentions.
I am angry that respected people see China as a role model in this crisis.
Despite the fact that China is a dictatorship, a country that persecutes people just because they have a different opinion. This controls its population using a social rating system. But it has coped really well with the corona virus situation, more and more people say. Meanwhile, it has been forgotten that journalists who researched the truth were thrown out of the country. Forget that we cannot trust China's information policy. Refuses to accept that the Chinese government could lie to us.
Will our future look like this? Should China become our role model just because it has mastered this crisis with totalitarian means? I fear that we will commit democratic suicide because we fear death.
So I fall asleep at night.
And then I wake up. More than 450,000 cases of the novel corona virus worldwide. 20% of patients checked in to US hospitals are between 20 and 44 years old. And then there are the pictures from Bergamo. Trucks with bodies. Mass graves. Crying doctors and nurses who are no longer able to properly care for the dying. The 70-year-old doctor refused the treatment because he had to reject so many patients who are the same age as him. That is what I wake up with.
And after all these thoughts and although I'm worried that the consequences of the virus could be worse than the virus itself (recession, mass unemployment, people losing their property, maybe worse), I ultimately believe that the measures are right. The more determined we are, the better.
Shut down. Break. Silent. Minimal contact. Rest and peace. Nothing. For a short time, a few weeks. We going to make that. But we need an end in sight.
It is a radical approach for a short time. We slow down the spread of the virus to save time. Time to prepare. Such a standstill cannot be survived by society either economically or politically for too long. The idea that we can only press the pause button until the virus goes away is naive and dangerous.
The day will come when politicians will change course again. And then we have to take special care of the people at risk. We have to protect them. Hopefully we will soon have a vaccine and improved intensive care units to help us with that.
However, the rest of us have to wake up from the economic hibernation. Let us return to our everyday life. The goals and ambitions that are vital to our civilization. As quickly as possible. Otherwise we could lose something even bigger: our social order, our freedom. I am seriously worried that we could give up our basic social values for a little more security.
But it doesn't have to be that way. We can come out of this situation stronger than if we have accepted it.
Crises are often catalysts for change. This is nothing new for us. Some of civilization's greatest achievements were achieved after wars or epidemics.
According to medical historian Klaus Bergdolt, the plague was an important prerequisite for the Renaissance, one of the most culturally inspiring and richest epochs in human history. The plague was followed by a period of great wealth and above all a previously unknown individualism. In Egon Friedell's words: "The year of conception of modern man was 1348, the year of black death."
The German economic miracle followed the Second World War. And after the second oil crisis from 1978 to 1980, investments in renewable energies increased enormously.
Crises force us to do things differently, to rethink the world. It promotes solidarity. A common enemy connects us, in this case luckily not another country or people, but a virus. Crises act like a magnifying glass and reveal the weaknesses, but also the strengths of individuals and systems. People could fail in a crisis – through resignation. Or surpass yourself by demonstrating courage and a sense of community. Crises can also make us aware of what is worth preserving and what needs to be changed.
We often talk about no longer needing offices, no more jobs. We say that work can be done in many different places. A smartphone and a laptop are all we need. Now that we are in our home offices, we realize that it is not that easy. We notice how important direct dialogue is. And we see how many trips and meetings in the past we could have done without. The corona virus crisis could make our work easier, more efficient and better.
The role of the media is also being tested. Journalists take personal risks and are again what they have not been for a long time. Our window to the world. Our filter to truth. You have a big responsibility. And I think that they meet this responsibility in an impressive way.
I often get letters saying that the media should now ensure solidarity and unity. However, the journalist's area of responsibility must not change just because we are in a crisis. Journalists must continue to doubt and ask questions. We need more than just solidarity and togetherness. We also need criticism. Above all, we need diversity in the information we receive and in the opinions we hear.
We do not need central government propaganda, but a healthy rivalry between critically intelligent positions. Hopefully we are all now seeing the importance of independent journalism.
When the crisis is over, life will not be the same as before. The economic damage will be enormous. Entire industries could disappear or change completely. New booming sectors will emerge. We will work differently. Travel less. Maybe pay more attention to the environment. Show more respect for politicians who act responsibly and don't give in to populism. Our encounters with each other will be different. Maybe we'll be more grateful. We're going to have wild parties. We will celebrate togetherness. And our freedom.
Maybe we'll change our welcome rituals. Cheek kisses could go away. Is it a loss or maybe a blessing?
Maybe we'll greet each other like in Thailand – hands clenched, a slight bow, a smile.
I would really like to see the smile. Especially in Germany. Nobody laughs as little as the Germans. Perhaps the corona virus makes us smile. When everything is over. A smile of gratitude.