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Germany has long been a nation with a collective culture and a reverence for scientific achievement. But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, those tendencies have been kicked into overdrive. Matter-of-fact acceptance of testing has become part of life.
Rapid testing has long been key to Germany’s COVID-19 strategy, with the government working early to shore up supplies and subsidize costs for the public. In this way, science has always been at the forefront of Germany’s pandemic response.
Germany’s test-heavy pandemic approach has morphed societal psychology to the point that testing – once a hot-button issue for a weary public – has now become part of everyday life.
Across Germany, public trust in science is higher now – by about 10 to 15 percentage points – than before the pandemic, according to the multiyear “Science Barometer” study.
Overall, this increased gravitation toward science is a positive development, sociologists say. “I think it’s really important that people are open to the struggle of science to provide answers to important questions facing society,” says Gerald Echterhoff, professor of social psychology at the University of Münster.
He adds that this shift might have lasting effects in other crisis management efforts, like “climate change, where people need to really assume responsibility, and live with restrictions in order to deal with the things that will be important for the benefit of society and social cohesion.”
Max Diel wanted to go out to dinner, even with a pandemic rampant in Germany.
So the Berlin-based artist sauntered into one of the more than 15,000 free test centers that have popped up all over the country and got in line. Navigating the sign-up app was challenging, he says, and waiting in line can be annoying. But he got his free test result and an hour later, he was meeting with friends.
Though Germany is now considering loosening some pandemic restrictions within a month, for nearly a year, simply attending school, visiting a restaurant, or shopping at a clothing store has at times required showing a negative test result.
Germany’s test-heavy pandemic approach has morphed societal psychology to the point that testing – once a hot-button issue for a weary public – has now become part of everyday life.
“I don’t see anything negative about the testing,” says Mr. Diel. “It just gives you the possibility to live with more freedom.”
Germany has long been a nation with a collective culture and a reverence for scientific achievement. But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, those tendencies have been kicked into overdrive. Matter-of-fact acceptance of testing has become part of life, and public trust in science is also higher now than before the pandemic.
Sociologists say German society will emerge from the pandemic newly practiced on the importance of shared responsibility. And that could have significant implications for how Germany handles future crises – and other imminent ones, like climate change.
“I would say the majority has realized that solidarity is a human resource,” says Heinz Bude, a professor of macrosociology at the University of Kassel. “People see and realize we need collective action for situations we can’t imagine for the moment, but which might possibly arise in the future.”
Rapid testing has long been key to Germany’s COVID-19 strategy, with the government working early to shore up supplies and subsidize costs for the public. In this way, science has always been at the forefront of Germany’s pandemic response.
German virologist Christian Drosten, who co-discovered the SARS coronavirus two decades ago, now consults the government on its COVID-19 response. Two married German scientists who started the company BioNTech developed the vaccine now marketed worldwide by Pfizer. Angela Merkel, chancellor when the pandemic started, holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry and refused to dumb down science while addressing the public.
Across Germany, public trust in science is higher now – by about 10 to 15 percentage points – than before the pandemic, according to the multiyear “Science Barometer” study out of the Wissenschaft im Dialog, the German organization for science communication.
Further, more than two-thirds of respondents now expect politicians to be guided by scientific findings.
Science was boosted by what sociologist Rudolf Stichweh called the “simplification of social life,” where society’s singular imperative was to save as many individual lives as possible.
“It was kind of a hegemony of the health and science system, subordinating other systems of society to look at what science would tell us,” says Gerald Echterhoff, professor of social psychology at the University of Münster.
Overall, this increased gravitation toward science is a positive development, sociologists say. “I think it’s really important that people are open to the struggle of science to provide answers to important questions facing society,” says Dr. Echterhoff. “I welcome the shift.”
There’s also the realization of the impact of individual actions on strangers. “There could be an infection chain to people in a senior home, right? And it could kill people, right?” says Dr. Echterhoff. “And that has become part of common knowledge and understanding.”
Overall, this societal shift hasn’t occurred without glitches, and it hasn’t always come from a place of selfless motivation. There’s a vocal minority who protests pandemic restrictions. Certain groups of people have also fallen prey to the “infodemic” of false information around COVID-19 and its treatment.
Further, one could chalk up the new feeling of “collective responsibility” simply to forced compliance. Pandemic restrictions like testing and vaccinations were tolerated by the public in the same way that curbs on smoking were gradually accepted, says Dr. Bude, the macrosociologist. “I think it’s a combination of rational acceptance, and of course, of institutional authority,” he says. “It’s both.”
Testing was also used as a tool, which ultimately allowed politicians to feel as if they could sidestep the negative impact of ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Those included depression, unemployment from retail and restaurant shutdowns, and lack of access to government services, says James Moore, a history professor at Humboldt University of Berlin.
“In this way, the testing campaign contributed negatively to living a normal life,” says Dr. Moore. “The conversation seemed only to be [limited to] the domain of testing and vaccines. As far as I can tell, the governments did not consult sociologists, and what kind of sociological training does a virologist or immunologist have?”
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Yet, perhaps this shift might yet morph into a lasting post-pandemic consciousness about crisis management, says Dr. Echterhoff. “I mean climate change, where people need to really assume responsibility, and live with restrictions in order to deal with the things that will be important for the benefit of society and social cohesion.”
“That’s what I’m hoping for.”
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A selection of the most viewed stories this week on the Monitor’s website.
Every Saturday
Hear about special editorial projects, new product information, and upcoming events.
Occasional
Select stories from the Monitor that empower and uplift.
Every Weekday
An update on major political events, candidates, and parties twice a week.
Twice a Week
Stay informed about the latest scientific discoveries & breakthroughs.
Every Tuesday
A weekly digest of Monitor views and insightful commentary on major events.
Every Thursday
Latest book reviews, author interviews, and reading trends.
Every Friday
A weekly update on music, movies, cultural trends, and education solutions.
Every Thursday
The three most recent Christian Science articles with a spiritual perspective.
Every Monday
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