Corona pandemic – many examples of concrete help in everyday life

by Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller

The global corona crisis is uppermost in all our minds. Government measures are being taken, which restrict the working and everyday life of us all, not to mention the economic consequences. The German Federal Chancellor speaks of the largest challenge since the Second World War. Besides the great commitment of people in the health and care sector in these weeks in many countries forces have been awakened in citizens that show what humans are capable of when reason and compassion are used: Many of our fellow citizens have, in a very short time, started countless smaller and larger initiatives which all want one thing: to help, protect, contribute. Here are just a few examples, which have already made their mark.

Social media – used sensibly

In Vienna some Twitter users had the idea to post photos of slips of paper that they had hang up in the neighborhood in order to offer help to older people and people with weakened immune system. The message was spread via “#Neighbourhood Challenge” and within short time the idea was copied in the social medias even in Germany and Switzerland. In various variations the idea has since spread widely and finds local imitators.

Since hotels and guesthouses have to be closed until Easter the company “Fruit-Express”, which provided countless hotels and restaurants in the Austrian Federal State Vorarlberg with fruit and vegetables, would literally have been stuck with its brimful warehouses; the goods would have ended up in the trash. Without hesitation the entrepreneur started an extraordinary warehouse sale.

Meanwhile numerous purchasing groups have set up to support the elderly in everyday life with different tasks with the purchase of food and the walk to the pharmacy or post office. The offers of help are willingly published by the local media. The Austrian Pensioners Association was overwhelmed in the face of this wave of helpfulness, appreciation and solidarity towards the elderly.

The mayor from the Austrian Unterkohlstätten in Burgenland is proud of his commue, because although people had to keep their distance now, they were “moving closer and closer together inwardly.” For two weeks now the fire department there gets done important errands for older, single people.

Linked with the urgent appeal that persons at risk and persons over sixty-five should preferably stay at home and no longer go shopping themselves, in numerous communes in Switzerland support is offered in the meantime, and you can volunteer when you want to help yourself.

Pupils also use their free time for this and organise neighbourhood help in their communes for those people who belong to the risk group, who are sick or who are on the run all day with their work as a nurse, doctor or policeman: “precisely in times like these it is absolutely necessary to think also of those you don’t know.” “Let’s stand together in these challenging times and support all those in our society who are reliant on us”, three grammar school pupils from the Austrian district of Freistadt appeal.

Also many clubs, parishes and youth organisations, church youth organisations and -groups offer help on site in everyday life for others: “Now that we have time anyway, we can also do good for people, who need help,” says a group leader of the young Catholic commue in Niederkirchen, Austria. There are more offers for support as requests for assistance.

Tyrol – countless offers of help

In the region of Tyrol, which is particularly badly affected, there are countless offers to support risk groups: On 14 March  the “Aktion Corona Nachbarschaftshilfe” (Initiative Corona Neighbourhood Help) started via facebook. Over the weekend the group has already grown to over 2,300 members. There you can report to an online form and communicate what you can do, how mobile you are and for which area in Tyrol you are available. Assistance is offered: Going shopping and doing errands, assisting people (depending on the risk of transmission), childcare (depending on the risk of transmission).

The “Verein Tierrettung” (association animal rescue) has launched the facebook-group “Neighbourhood assistance for animals in Tyrol” founded as an exchange forum and with offers of assistance for dogs (walking), horses, cows and other animals. Also young farmers and the “Landjugend” (young people growing up in rural areas) offer their help to farmers.

“But there are extraordinary circumstances, for example after a natural disaster, where you would expect only selfishness. The media fuel this expectation with their stories of chaos, looting, violence. But over 500 documented cases of catastrophes since the 1950s show what actually happens: Cooperation explodes. People help each other. This fact is unknown to most people. Even rescue workers often don‘t know it.“
 

Source: Rutger Bregmann in an interview in the «NZZ am Sonntag» of 15 March 2020

The German food banks provide nationwide regularly 1.6 million people in need with food. Thereof 30 % are children and teenagers, 26 % senior citizens and 44% adults of working age. Many food banks now had to close because of the corona crisis. One of the reasons is, that about 90% of the volunteers are retired people. They need support from younger citizens who take over their tasks.

“Our institutions should not be built on the theory of human selfishness. We must start with the idea that people tend to do good and cooperate. Because what we expect from others, we get. Then we can shape new schools, new prisons, new democracies.“

Source: Interview with Rutger Bregmann in the “NZZ am Sonntag” of 15 March 2020

Many good and important initiatives and proposals emerge, often on a small scale, disseminating in no time at all and finding imitators everywhere. Also numerous media in the current crisis passed to offer products on the internet free of charge.

How come?

“Being a ‘Gutmensch’ is nothing you have to be ashamed of”

In an interview with the “NZZ am Sonntag” of 15 March 2020 with the Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregmann about his new book “Im Grunde gut (Basically Good)” he is asked, if he was a “Gutmensch” (means literally good human in German, but is often used as an ironic, sarcastic or disparaging cultural term similar to do-gooder.) He says about his book: “With this I want to reclaim this expression. To be a ‘Gutmensch’ is nothing to be ashamed of, but something that is deeply rooted in our nature and history” And referring to the corona crisis: “Of course you’ll hear stories, that people steal toilet paper. But the overwhelming majority behave socially. Thousands of nurses and doctors work as hard as they can. Millions of people change their behavior to slow down the spread of the virus.”

“So if you think that people are basically good, just start applying this idea. Who knows where it will lead. […]

All social thinking is based on a theory of human nature.“

Source: Rutger Bregmann in an interview in the «NZZ am Sonntag» of 15 March 2020

Urgent appeals for solidarity and cooperation

On 17 March 2020 the German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn at a press conference in Munich called upon all citizens to solidarity in order to cope with the massive restrictions in everyday life due to the corona crisis: “We can address the challenges if we stand together, if we keep calm and and take care of each other.” Now is the time to gain time to slow down the spread of the virus, time to increase hospital capacity and to protect the elderly and people with pre-existing diseases. “This is the task now before us as a nation, for us as citizens and for us as humans.” Spahn also stressed the good cooperation between the federal and state governments in dealing with the corona crisis: What sometimes takes longer to decide in federalism is all the more effective on the ground: “Federalism shows its strength in implementation.” He also noticed a great willingness among the population to help and support each other.

Federal President Walter Steinmeier on 16 March turned to the population with a video message: “Sometimes reason requires drastic action. This is the case now. We have to change our daily routine now. Each and every one! Together we must ensure that the virus spreads as slowly as possible. So, wherever possible, stay at home! Avoid close contact. Look for and use other ways to communicate, to work, to be helpful to each other! And: Have an understanding for all restrictive measures. They are necessary – please stick to them!” He went on: “I would like to thank all those who are particularly important these days: nurses, doctors, emergency services and crisis teams, and also the cashier and the truck driver who maintain our supply. Thanks and respect to all of you!”

On 18 March, in her adress to the Nation Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “I firmly believe that we will pass this test if all citizens genuinely see this as THEIR task.
Allow me therefore to say that this is serious. Please also take this seriously. Since German reunification, no, since the Second World War, there has not been a challenge for our country in which action in a spirit of solidarity on our part was so important.
[…] That is the message an epidemic brings home – how vulnerable we all are, how much we depend on the considerate behaviour of others and, ultimately, how, through joint action, we can protect ourselves and offer one another encouragement and support.”

Example of scientific honesty and lived humanity

Since 26 February 2020, Professor Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at the Berlin University Hospital Charité, informs in podcast of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) “Corona-Virus update” (The corona virus update with Christian Drosten) (https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/info/Corona-Podcast-Alle-Folgen-in-der-Uebersicht,podcast Corona-Virus134.html), published daily during the week, about the situation, about new research results, developments and answers questions, which are uppermost in a lot of people’s mind.

He is one of the co-discoverers of SARS-associated corona virus (Sars-CoV). Together with Stephan Günther, a few days after identification he succeeded in developing a diagnostic test for the newly identified virus in 2003. Drosten immediately made his findings on SARS available to the scientific community on the internet. For the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which first appeared in December 2019, the research group led by Drosten developed a test that was made available worldwide in mid-January 2020. The group also published the sequenced genome from samples obtained in Germany. In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Drosten also advises the German federal government. In a factual, calm and understandable language, he informs the many people about the state of research, while openly addressing those questions that research cannot yet answer today. In an interview with Zeit online on 20 March 2020, he said: “Scientific findings need to be communicated transparently to everyone so that everyone can get an insight into the situation. But I also clearly say where the limits of my knowledge are. I have always been doing that.”   •

Swiss hospitals call for voluntary assistance

ev. According to a report by SRF (Swiss Radio and Television), hundreds of medical students in their sixth, i.e. final year of study, have volunteered to help with intensive care in Zurich. The initiative came from a female and a male student who, while learning, talked about the current situation and considered how they could help the health care system to cope with the corona crisis as well as possible.

The idea of writing to the university hospital was quickly realised. “Ten minutes later we received an answer from the head of the intensive care unit,” the student reported to SRF.1 Her subsequent letter to all students in her final year was met with an overwhelming response: “Within half a day, 90 volunteers registered. More were added every day, and we now have contact with 300 people,” the doctor-to-be continued. The initiative is very welcomed by the University Hospital Zurich. Lorenzo Käser, the coordinator of the volunteer work there, told SRF on Friday, 20 March: “I am incredibly touched by what the six-year students have achieved here. That’s an incredible support.” Already last week the training of 103 students for assignments in the intensive care unit had started, Käser said on Friday. There, he said, it is particularly important to have the support of volunteers.

The hospital and the university have the students in mind that learning for the final degree is not neglected. Just one day per week or one weekend is a great support. And vice versa, such an assignment can become an experience that will accompany the prospective young doctors in their future profession.

Not only in the intensive care sector, but also in other areas, all hospitals will urgently need the help of volunteers in the near future. Of course not only from medical students, but especially from all those who have a medical background in some form or another. SRF quotes Lorenzo Käser, the coordinator for voluntary aid, as saying: “These can be people in nursing training, but also those who used to work in nursing and are now perhaps working in another profession. Also those who only have hospital or practical experience in another medically related profession. We will need them all.” Several hospitals have started support programmes.

Thus the University Hospital writes on its homepage (www.usz.ch/bildung/Seiten/Freiwillige-Corona.aspx): “Thank you very much for your support and commitment in the joint action against corona! Thank you very much for your registration and your support! At the moment we have already received many messages, which we are working hard to register, arrange and prepare for contacting for resource planning. Please note that, due to the timing of the pandemic, numerous and fresh emergency forces will still be needed in April and May. It is therefore possible that we will only contact you at a later date for the actual assignment. The entire health system and all health institutions throughout Switzerland will need your helpfulness!”  •

Brunner, Christoph: “Hunderte von Medizinstudentinnen und -studenten melden sich für IPS” (Hundreds of medical students register for IPS (Intensive Care Unit), in: srf.ch  on 20 March 2020

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