Two Countries, Two Responses

Will Thomas lived in Germany as an exchange student from May 2019 to April 2020 and has been helping out at tünews International since October 2019. In his article, he compares the governmental responses to the Corona pandemic of Germany and the USA based on his own personal experiences and shares his perception of the current Corona crisis.


by Will Thomas

How does a country react to a crisis? The answer depends on the country. Until the end of March, I was completing an exchange year in Tübingen, consisting of a semester at the university and an internship. Unfortunately, this year was cut short, and I am now back in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia in the USA.

I have ended up in a unique situation. In Germany, I contracted and then recovered from COVID-19. I experienced both Germany’s strong reaction to the Coronavirus crisis and the USA’s drastically different response.

Germany reacted much quicker than the USA. Due to Germany’s proximity to Italy and Austria, early hot-spots, Germany was forced to react quickly to avoid becoming a similar hot-spot. I was shocked when I heard the first predictions from the Robert Koch Institute. The city of Tübingen was one of the cities affected early on and quickly set in action a plan to stop the spread of the virus. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the country a reassuring message, that we must take the threat of the virus seriously and respond as a country. The federal states themselves also took on a lot of responsibility.

After a personal contact of mine tested positive for the virus, it was easy for me to get tested. I walked up to the drive-in testing site on Festplatz in Tübingen, and only waited about ten minutes to be tested. Although the results took longer than expected, they came eventually, and I was in touch with a contact tracer from the Ministry of Health, someone who tracked everyone I was in contact with to make sure they were also tested. At no point did I develop any symptoms and two weeks after my positive test results I ended my quarantine and flew back to the USA.

The USA was, in terms of infection rates, about a week or two behind Germany, but the reaction in the USA was completely different. Here, in the USA, it is very difficult still to get tested for the virus. There simply are not enough tests. It is high likely that I would not have been able to get tested in the USA. The reaction at the federal level is also completely different. President Trump doubted the seriousness of the virus from early on and after he implemented the travel restrictions, declared that the USA had defeated the virus and that the crisis was over. It was not. The virus had already spread within the USA. States received no clear guidelines from the federal government and there was a total lack of centralized leadership, which is exactly what a country needs during a crisis.

US Americans and Germans, culturally, are different. Our culture in the USA is much more individualistic. It took a long time for the government here to put out a stay-at-home order and even when they did, it was only a suggestion, not a requirement. A few people here even protested the stay-at-home orders and demanded that businesses reopen. Trump himself spread numerous conspiracy theories about the virus and at least a couple people here have died because of some of the “cures” that Trump suggested. There is no universal healthcare in the USA and no social safety net like Germany’s. Many people receive health insurance through their employer. Many people have already lost their job.

In my home state, Georgia, the governor (a position similar to Ministerpräsident in Germany) has already decided that all the businesses in the state must reopen. The state has only begun in the last week to employ contact tracers, similar to the ones I spoke with in Germany. I am worried about a second wave of the virus occurring here. Germany’s response to the virus gave me hope. The response of my home country gives me none.


Impressionen zum Leben in Zeiten der Corona-Pandemie: Foto: tünews INTERNATIONAL; Mostafa Elyasian, 14.05.2020

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