Today the chancellor and the prime ministers are discussing further tightening of the corona measures. Reiner Haseloff, the head of government of Saxony-Anhalt, is against it. Why?
Chillreport: Mr Haseloff, the number of corona cases in Germany is increasing, including you in Saxony-Anhalt. However, you do not want to tighten up the measures in your country. Why not?
Reiner Haseloff: We carefully weigh what is justified, so that imposition and danger are limited. The infections in Saxony-Anhalt are increasing slightly, but are still traceable and at the moment there is no reason to consider tightening the measures.
Other prime ministers in Germany are considering – probably at the insistence of the chancellery – that that’s exactly what they want: one more tightening.
But we have to find the right course for our own state. We’ve got it well balanced right now and we’re sticking to it. But: should the number of infections increase, we can tighten up the measures at any time. However, it is even more important than just looking at the number of infections to keep an eye on the severe cases. If an increase is noticeable here, we will respond immediately.
Your course mainly consists of not imposing a fine on mask refusers.
We don’t want to punish people who don’t wear masks. This is also due to the special location here. At the time of the decision in the other federal states, there is not the slightest reason for us to tighten the applicable law, we simply have a slightly different situation here than in various other federal states.
What do you mean?
Relatively few Corona cases are “produced” in Saxony-Anhalt. Many cases come from outside. Partly by returnees from holiday countries, partly by people who have visited their families abroad. But that also means: If we didn’t have these travel moves, we would practically have even fewer infections. I can’t go there right now and pay a fine to anyone who doesn’t wear a mask for a while. In a state dependent on the responsible citizen, fines and fines are always only the last resort.
They impose fines on companies if people shop without a mask.
Exactly. We take responsibility for those who provide a service or run a business to ensure that applicable laws are enforced while exercising their rights of residence. And that is also checked. I am concerned about the mood in my country: if you only threaten with fines or fines, you have a psychological disadvantage: we have the second lowest contamination rate in Germany. And do I seriously have to pull the hammer out?
Your Bavarian counterpart Markus Söder likes to talk about “pulling the strings”.
Nice that you bring it up! In Munich, for example, there is a relatively harsh regime. Nevertheless, thousands of fans embraced after Bayern won the Champions League. And do you know what happened next?
Most offenses went unpunished.
Turn right! Because it is de facto difficult for the state to take action! No police in the world can do that, and certainly not the health authorities responsible for prosecuting administrative offenses. They really have other things to do. It is more important that health authorities monitor infection chains. Don’t get me wrong: Markus Söder is facing an extremely difficult situation. But the increasing number is the best proof that sanctions alone will not control the pandemic.
What danger do you see with the sanctions?
Fines do not win people over to fight the pandemic, but increase bitterness. As a state government, we must be careful not to provoke false emotions, otherwise this could have serious long-term consequences.
We will live with this pandemic longer than we can currently imagine. It reminds me a bit of the plague that struck my hometown Wittenberg in the Middle Ages. After that, daily life was radically restructured: for example, a good water and sewage system was installed.
That has already been given.
But what can be learned from that time: we must appeal to common sense. People need to realize that their daily lives are changing, and most are already doing it. This certainly cannot be achieved by threatening state sanctions alone.
What danger do you see in the hard law and order course?
The point is that we are not jeopardizing our democratic system. In the refugee crisis of 2015, the state acted in such a way that a clear opinion was expressed. As a result, the AfD now has a seat in all state parliaments and in the Bundestag. That cannot happen to us a second time. In the corona pandemic, we as rulers have to be very careful about what is given as the “line.” You cannot patronize people. The pandemic is an existential challenge that requires us to keep the core of society together.
The slow course of the government also caused misunderstanding: for a long time there was no clear indication whether the R-value or the doubling time should be used as the most important measure in the fight against it. The Chancellor also had strong doubts about the effectiveness of face masks. How great is the damage to credibility that has been done?
Frankly, some damage has been done. This course has eroded people’s confidence in scientific policy advice. And the fact that one prime minister relied on relaxation and another on prudence in this debate was certainly a little confusing to the people. That’s right: we need serious, scientific explanations as a basis for the government to work. But it is then the responsibility of politicians to weigh these against socio-political consequences. And then to decide what is reasonable for people – and what is not, and to communicate this very carefully.