Coronavirus pandemic has ‘pulled Germans closer together’

Many people in Germany feel they have become closer through the pandemic, a new study has found.

Coronavirus pandemic has 'pulled Germans closer together'
People walking in Cologne in April. Photo: DPA

The survey conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the research institute Infas found the population's cohesion has increased significantly in recent months.

While 46 percent of people in February still considered cohesion in this country to be at risk, this proportion fell to 36 percent in May and June, according to the study.

At the same time, more Germans feel people have been looking out for each other – that is despite the distance rules and contact bans which were put in place to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Whereas in February 41 percent said that citizens did not care about others, this figure had fallen to only 19 percent by early summer. Trust in the federal government also increased: from 19 to 45 percent; while satisfaction with democracy rose from about 50 to 60 percent.

The results are based on surveys that were conducted in two waves in February and March as well as May and June as part of the long-term study called “Radar Social Cohesion”.

The study has been showing how social cohesion is perceived since 2012. In comparison with the most recent study in 2017, cohesion in Germany is stable. “Even though many citizens are worried about social cohesion, it remains robust overall,” said study author Kai Unzicker.

In the first wave, more than 3,000 people were interviewed, with the researchers differentiating between interviews before March 3rd and after, because coronavirus restrictions began to come into play then.

In May and June, 1,000 people were interviewed again. And it turned out that most of those surveyed said cohesion had improved after more than two months of the crisis.

“In a crisis situation, many have experienced real solidarity in the form of neighbourhood help with shopping or childcare,” said study author Unzicker.

READ ALSO: Germany sees highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases since May

Some groups feel less cohesion

But this narrative doesn't apply to everyone. While the pandemic left hardly anyone untouched, there are groups who are more concerned and feel less social cohesion. These include poorer and less well educated people, single parents and people with a migration background.

“Someone who is well educated and has a high income has the opportunity to do home office (work from home),” said Unzicker. “People with less education and on a lower income, on the other hand, are more likely to be put on reduced working hours (Kurzarbeit) and lose their jobs, and this is where fears rise.”

READ ALSO: Why some single mums feel invisible in Germany's coronavirus crisis

Unsurprisingly, those who already knew a high level of cohesion before the crisis felt less lonely in recent months – and had fewer worries about their own future or that of their family.

According to Unzicker, politicians should therefore pay more attention to particularly affected groups. Those who feel little cohesion and do not have stable social infrastructure should be the focus.

“It is about more support in the districts in order to be able to react locally to the adversities of life for these people,” he said. 

If, for example, the situation with childcare or schools does not improve significantly in the foreseeable future, the researchers believe those who are disadvantaged will suffer further.

READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a second lockdown amid rise in coronavirus cases?

People less worried about economic decline

Surprisingly the fear of economic decline has also fallen compared to the initial phase of the pandemic in Germany, the study found.

While in February more than half of those surveyed were still worried about being or becoming poorer themselves, this figure had fallen to 47 percent by early summer.

Fear of unemployment has also decreased significantly, from 44 percent to 31 percent. People in Germany are also slightly less worried about an economic and financial crisis (63 instead of 68 percent).

Unzicker also said this change of mood reflects the fact that coronavirus restrictions have been eased, and there's some relief that Germany has got through the crisis. 

The question is: can this positive outlook remain in view of the rising number of infections?


Cohesion – (der) Zusammenhalt

Citizens – (die) Bürgerinnen und Bürger (male and female, or with the gender star: Bürger*innen

Crisis situation – (die) Krisensituation

Compared to – im Vergleich zu

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Member comments

  1. It is true at the beginning behaviour of people was different and with passage of time it changed. Now feelings for others have improved a lot and people got the feeling that in difficult times it is good to face the difficulties  being united and together.

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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”