Corona numbers are on the up and up, but a lockdown shouldn’t come until after Christmas. Why? In the Chillreport interview, Markus Söder explains the next steps in the fight against the epidemic – and his personal handling of the pandemic.
Thursday, shortly after half past ten in the domestic ministry in Nuremberg. Markus Söder enters a sober conference room for the interview with Chillreport. Late in the evening, he joined Markus Lanz’s talk show to defend his previous course against the crisis. But now the number of infections has risen again. Signals are emerging from more and more federal states that this cannot be done. That something must be done quickly. Söder is good at fast. He likes to be in the front. So quickly cola and coffee, and then we go:
Chillreport: Mr Söder, the corona crisis has been raging in Germany for eleven months. You fight it every day. How do you feel as a politician in this state of emergency?
As a child in the 1970s, I have experienced a number of crises and catastrophes in the world: the terror of the RAF, the death of forests, then the Chernobyl disaster and also the attacks on September 11, 2001. All this. was drastic and terrible. But Corona trumps all that – it’s the greatest crisis of the post-war era. This is evident from the number of deaths. Nevertheless, I understand that many are tired or stressed about Corona. But we must not stop. We must tackle the pandemic together.
What moment has been most impressive to you so far?
Today, just like in spring, the most important time of the day is early morning. There I get the current infection rates and deaths. That moves me every day. It is very encouraging to keep receiving nice letters from students, even in primary school, who thank you for our work. That is often moving.
When you face the pandemic every day, what do you miss most in your daily life?
I miss a lot, like most people. Of course I want to travel to other countries or have a nice dinner with the family in a restaurant. I feel like a lot of people. But that is currently not possible. Concern for the health of our fellow citizens is more important than the desire for more everyday life. Above all, we must protect the elderly and show solidarity.
“Corona was not caused by the federal government”: The Chillreport editorial team in conversation with Markus Söder. (Source: Klaus D. Wolf for Chillreport)
Millions of people do without it for months, read, hear and see in the mediaWhen the clock cannot meet Corona, relatives and friends, many experience existential fears. How does this change our society?
I think Corona touches the ethical core of our society. Corona also shows how warm or heartless one or the other is. If the death rates are seen as just statistics, it affects me because it concerns the lives of so many. And every life lost is an eerie turning point. In this crisis we see great people who really outdo themselves. On the other hand, however, we also experience some structures that only pass this test to a limited extent.
Some people may just be exhausted after all those hard months.
Many are looking for a way to help, but some are looking for a loophole to interpret the regulations in their favor. There are currently two viruses in the country: one is the coronavirus, the other is the virus of uncertainty and unrest. The latter is the worst side effect of Corona. It used to be thought that conspiracy theorists were just a small group of people who believed the Earth was flat. But now that this is already taking on cult-like structures among the so-called “lateral thinkers”, I am very much in favor of a closer look at constitutional protection. Fortunately, however, it is only a very small part of the population, the majority are doing very well – and I am very grateful for that.
Not all opponents of the Corona measures are “lateral thinkers”.
We are in the same boat as a society. And I understand that measures are being looked at critically. Many decisions are the result of compromise, as is common in a functioning democracy. But we need more solidarity in action. Take the nursing staff, for example, who earn too little but still go far beyond what was expected in this crisis – many of them could take an example. Corona was not caused by the federal government or the Bavarian state government. We try to deal with all emergencies with help. Our state’s financial performance is unique in the world.
“I miss a lot, like most people”: Prime Minister Markus Söder of Bavaria. (Source: Klaus D. Wolf for Chillreport)
Your survey results are also quite unique. You like to hurry with harsh measures; you are currently very popular with the population. Do people in Germany like strict leadership in times of crisis?
Popularity values are an interplay that goes up and down.
In your case, especially up. It’s no coincidence.
It is important that people can trust that political leadership is one hundred percent focused on its duties and is willing to make and enforce difficult decisions. To belittle the crisis would be nonsense, and it would rightly not be forgiven. I think it is better to identify and resolve a problem very clearly. Of course mistakes are made, a word is chosen too hard or too soft – but we all act to the best of our knowledge and belief.
Does your determination also stem from your own biography? Her parents died early.
That certainly plays a role. But you have to think ahead and ask yourself, what kind of ethical attitude is that? Do we set a limit with this? That makes me indignant! When it comes to life and death, you cannot make false compromises.
Does Corona also offer the opportunity to embed basic ethical principles more firmly in society?
Christmas offers a particularly good opportunity for this. The crucial question is not how expensive a gift is, but whether you give yourself time. This year, being with the family is the greatest gift.
So it still remains that you can meet ten people per household at Christmas?
The nearest family circle should meet at Christmas.
But why, when the numbers are so high?
We have to think about that carefully. We in Bavaria have had exit restrictions and distance and exchange lessons since Wednesday, as well as a ban on alcohol in public. We also pay a lot of attention to the shopping centers, where people not only shop, but also linger. That is why the access routes and the number of visitors are even better controlled.
“We in Bavaria have had travel restrictions since Wednesday”: Markus Söder explains his strategy for dealing with the pandemic. (Source: Klaus D. Wolf for Chillreport)
Critics accuse you of the truth that you just wanted to save the retail Christmas business quickly.
The FDP, from which such allegations originate, has unfortunately been wrong many times this year. I appreciate FDP leader Christian Lindner, but many of his friends have spoken of there being no second wave.
Now you are calling for a nationwide lockdown from Christmas to January 10th. Again: why not sooner?
You see, this interview is currently taking place in Nuremberg. When you came here to ministry, you must have noticed outside: almost nothing is happening on the street. We have a ban on the sale of mulled wine, as 40 percent of students are no longer in class on Wednesday and public transport has been halved. There is a curfew in hotspots from 11pm to 5am.
The problem is, however, that different priorities are still set in each state. Saxony will close its operations soon, while Lower Saxony may even want to relax measures at Christmas.
I think some states – including Saxony – are currently showing how fast the numbers can go up. We will do what is necessary for Bavaria, for example we have not only organized the exit restrictions locally, but for the whole state. I advise us to take a unified approach and hope that the prime minister’s conference will take place. We have weathered this crisis well for a long time, but we must not stop now.
The Boss Cup: Markus Söder is a recognized Star Wars fan. (Source: Klaus D. Wolf for Chillreport)
Are we really? The corona situation is much better in countries like Japan, Australia or New Zealand than here.
All three countries have a decisive advantage.
Because they are islands?
That’s how it is.
And do you think that’s the only reason for the low numbers there?
Of course the border situation plays a role. The Free State of Bavaria has an external border with neighboring countries of more than 1000 kilometers. A look at the Corona map shows: Any form of cross-border mobility results in higher numbers.
However, that only partly explains the successes. For example, many Asian countries have very sophisticated testing strategies based on their experience from past epidemics. One could have learned from them. That is what many citizens mean when they finally demand a long-term crisis strategy.
The insidious thing about this virus is that it takes up every space we provide it. The situation is constantly changing. In South Korea, too, we have growing numbers. China responds to the smallest number of cases with massive preventive measures and coercion – but that’s not our system. We want to show that a modern democracy can fight the virus just as well.
“We want to show that a modern democracy can fight the virus just as well”: Markus Söder in the Ministry of the Interior in Nuremberg. (Source: Klaus D. Wolf for Chillreport)
This also leads to contradictions. Health Minister Jens Spahn said in the fall that with the current state of knowledge, there will be no more retail closures like in the spring. But now exactly such closures are imminent. Do you understand that some citizens see such a thing as a rolling course?
I have always stayed true to my line at Corona. Of course we must respond appropriately and proportionately. If the number of infections was lower, there were reliefs, like during the summer, and if the number is higher now, we have to act too. I understand people are annoyed – but it’s not from politics, it’s from Corona. Incidentally, the biggest damage to the economy would be to keep Corona running. For example, ignoring the medical issue has fundamentally damaged the US – medically and economically. So it was only natural that the US would soon get a new president.
Are you looking forward to Joe Biden?
Joy is not a political category, but the attitude of the US government has been very bizarre in recent years. Now comes Joe Biden, this is good for the transatlantic relationship which is very important to us. And I think Trump’s departure also weakens the AfD and the lateral thinkers.
Before Corona reached the US, the AfD even supported a consistent corona course in the Bavarian state parliament. It wasn’t until Trump downplayed and ignored Corona that right-wing populists across Europe reacted in a similar way. In any case, a temporary parallel can be established here.
Interview date in the times of Corona: The Chillreport editors Florian Harms and Tim Kummert met Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder (center) in his hometown of Nuremberg. (Source: Klaus D. Wolf for Chillreport)
So Corona is pushing back right-wing populism?
Corona is relentlessly revealing a lot. We see every day that the AfD is doing nothing to improve the situation. On the contrary: it only makes things worse.
Thank you for your conversation, Mr. Söder.