March 2019 saw me in my new home city in Central Germany and a year on we are living in a time of a pandemic.
My new home city of Göttingen is twinned with the Gloucestershire city of Cheltenham located on the edge of the Cotswolds in South West England. (oddly for me, Cheltenham is also where my older brother was born)
The city of Göttingen has a population of 119,801 and the surrounding Göttingen Landkreis (administrative area) is 253,646 situated in the State of Lower Saxony which in turn has a total population of just under eight million people.
The population of Cheltenham is 117,090 and for Gloucestershire it is 633,558 situated in the South West of England with over five million.
Confirmed Covid-19 cases in Göttingen and Landkreis stands on May 1 at 795 (165 in Göttingen city) with 53 dead. In Lower Saxony, the number of total deaths is at 429 from almost eight million people.
Finding Covid-19 figures for Cheltenham was beyond me whilst for Göttingen/Germany it was easy, the situation in Cheltenham can be outlined from press reports with the death toll having reached 171 in Gloucestershire on April 27. Mortality figures for Gloucestershire (this includes Cheltenham) is roughly double that in two nearby trusts at neighbouring Bristol and those covering Swindon and Bath. And these figures do not necessarily reflect the situation in care homes etc. The population of South West England is 5,289,000 with almost 1,000 confirmed mortalities from Covid-19 and you can compare this to Lower Saxony with eight million people and 429 deaths.
Modelling projections suggests that the UK death rate could be greater than any other European country and nationally it stands at 26,842 on May 1.
Covid-19 took hold in Germany because after being transmitted at ski resorts (Austria has a case to answer, because known spots were not closed) it then spread during the carnival season (November/February) resulting in the forming of large clusters of Covid-19 especially in Southern and Western Germany where the majority of cases are. Nonetheless German Cities, States and the National Government were able to mitigate the spread by cancelling further carnivals.
In Göttingen’s sister town of Cheltenham, like most of the UK life seemed to go on as normal despite the alarming situations developing in Italy, Spain, and France. The Cheltenham Borough website has this statement: “The decision as to whether the Cheltenham Races took place was not one that fell within the remit of Cheltenham Borough Council. Any decision to postpone or cancel the races had to be made by the racecourse under instruction and/or guidance from central government.” The council is obviously aware of the controversy surrounding this event and it was stymied in the choices it could make by the centralised nature of UK governance. Göttingen city council had banned public events including sport.
The Cheltenham Festival was held over March 10/13 attracting 60,000 plus people per day from across the UK/World and the UK Govt said at the time: “The risk at mass gatherings was no greater or less than it would have been in pubs or restaurants, and the advice at that point was that we did not need to ban mass gatherings.”
A few days after the race horse festival was over the UK Government reacted to growing evidence that the pandemic was set to see possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths if nothing was done (Imperial College projections on March 16) by requesting people to not frequent bars and pubs etc..
The UK Government waited until March 23 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally implemented a formal lock down in contrast to the initial plan to develop a community herd immunity to the virus by allowing free movement and association. As with the USA the period of February and March is seen as being very controversial because of the lack of action by both countries including acquiring PPE etc.
At that time in Göttingen we had been in lock down for quite a period and in Cheltenham local media reported a spike of Covid-19 infections in the post code adjacent to Cheltenham Race Course and at the main railway station resulting in 27 confirmed hospital admissions of the virus at April 3, Cheltenham had become a hot spot with the highest amount of infections in Gloucestershire. The two locations made up nearly a quarter of county-wide hospital admissions on April 3.
The lock down in Göttingen is now being eased and soon playgrounds for instance will reopen. As part of seeing more shops open we are required to wear masks when in confined public spaces.