By Juliane Schumacher
A few days left till Christmas, and I am still not getting into the mood for it. Maybe because it is too warm – this morning in the park, the sun shining bright from a clear sky, it almost felt like spring. And maybe it is because of this crazy year that comes to an end without any sign if things will be better in the next one. Usually I love the weeks before Christmas, the season of Advent, as we call it. It used to be I did a lot of things I didn’t find the time for the rest of the year: decorating the flat, baking, doing handicrafts with my kids. We’d light candles, make hot chocolate in the afternoon, spend more time inside. But none of this feels special this year. It is what we are have been doing most of the year.
The season of lockdowns has started again. A ‘lockdown-light’ was announced beginning of November, and at first, I thought I would not be affected too much by it. Bars, restaurants and sport facilities had to close, but shops, schools and daycare facilities stayed open – too bad had been the experience with school closures in spring. My older sons have missed almost a year of Maths and English, and there is still no plan of how to catch this up. We went swimming on the last Sunday before the new lockdown started. It was not very crowded and the atmosphere was very relaxed, all the families knowing that this would be their last visit to a swimming pool for a long time.
The next day, when the ‘lockdown’ started, I had the feeling I couldn’t breathe. I was exhausted when I just took the few stairs up to our flat, felt too tired to work. When it did not get better after a few days, I went to the doctor. She examined me, made some tests and finally told me that everything was fine. I have a lot of people with these symptoms at the moment, the doctor told me, mostly young women. It’s the situation, all this insecurity.
When I was back home I thought she might be right. I always considered myself a very flexible person, able to accommodate fast to changing conditions and unforeseen circumstances. But now I am longing for the ability to plan, to know what I will have to expect. Will infections numbers continue to rise? Will schools and kindergartens close within the next weeks? Will I be able to conduct fieldwork next year? Will my scholarship, ending in summer, be prolonged under these conditions? When will I be able to meet family, friends and colleagues again? What if friends or family members get infected? When will all this be over?
A few days later, I was quite sure that the ‘lockdown light’ would not work. Unlike in spring, there were no deserted streets, no silence or birdsong in the city-center. People went to work, went shopping, met friends. At noon, workers were sitting on banks outside, eating their lunch in boxes from take-away restaurants. Just in the evening, it became unusually quiet in our street. With the bars and restaurants closed there was no reason to be outside in the dark November nights.
I wondered why people were behaving differently this time. Was it because the government was reluctant to impose stricter measures? There have been demonstrations against the lockdown measures, movements of ‘Corona-deniers’ who believe the virus is just an invention of ill-meaning politicians or digital tycoons in their attempt to take over the world. But their presence in the media, it seems to me, is much bigger than their actual influence. I don’t know anybody who thinks the virus is just an invention. Still, people seem not to follow the rules as strictly as the last time. Gradually, I reflected that in spring, people were not reducing their contacts because because the state told them to do so, but because they were afraid. The virus was completely new, nobody knew exactly how dangerous it was. Now we know more: it is not less dangerous than half a year ago, but people have got used to it. It is one risk among others that people take every day, like the risk of having an accident when driving a car or a bike. People were willing not to meet their friends or family for a few weeks, but they are not willing – or able – to do so for months or years. It’s somehow human. We are social beings, not made for a life in isolation.
Infection numbers stabilised for two weeks, then they started rising again. The representatives of the regional governments met again. Ten days before Christmas, they closed schools, kindergartens and shops. For the shops this was a catastrophe – they make one-third of their total sales of the year in the time around Christmas, up to one billion euro a day. Nobody knows how many of the shops will be gone when the lockdown is be lifted. And nobody knows when this will be. No one honestly believes it will end on the 10th of January, as has been said up to now.
Still, there were no big complaints, not even by the shop owners. Everyone seemed to understand that something had to be done. Many hospitals operate at their limit – not because they don’t have enough beds, but because there is not enough staff. In some cases, half of the staff has to stay at home, either because they are ill or in quarantine. In the nine months since the first Covid-19-cases were registered, no long-term concept has been developed, no concept of how to protect the vulnerable, how to ensure contact-tracing is working, even when numbers are rising. So another lockdown seems the only measure available. And we start the new year the way we have spent so many months over the last one: in isolation. We stay at home, plan to celebrate Christmas with the only other household allowed, and hope the vaccination campaign starting next week will be the wonder we are hoping for.