The year 2020 was mainly marked by one event – the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 became one of the most important words in our everyday language and somehow it affected all of us. At the beginning of the pandemic, many people were not aware of how much their life will change due to COVID-19 pandemic. In this little series, we asked six different people about their personal experiences during the first lockdown. They kindly agreed to share with us their personal experience, feelings, hopes, and wishes for the future.
We decided to keep our interview partners anonymous so that they were able to talk freely about their experiences. We did not exclusively talk to people employed by the UKB but also to people outside the UKB.
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the interviewed persons.
During the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries decided to introduce strict measurements. In this interview, we asked a scientist who was born and raised in Brazil and who is now working and living in Germany how the COVID situation here differs from the situation of colleagues, friends and family in Brazil.
How did your everyday work in the lab changed due to the pandemic?
In the beginning of the lockdown (March/April 2020), we were asked to stay at home whenever we did not have experiments planned. Since I had experiments that could not be postponed or rescheduled, I did not take any time for home office. Back in the first wave, the lab had fewer people, so it was peaceful and more productive to work.
Do you know how it changed for your colleagues in Brazil?
Due to incompetent government and widespread misinformation about the virus and its consequences, the lockdown measures started really late in Brazil. Because of that, the number of cases and deaths increased at a very fast pace, leading to the decision for the full blockage of lab access and therefore, forced cancellation of experiments and other scientific activities. Together with the severe budget cut from the previous months, 2020 really took a major toll on Brazilian Science, and also on grant approvals and job postings.
How is the health system in your country compared to Germany (independent of COVID-19 pandemic)?
I am from Brazil and there we have the Unified Health System (Sistema Único de Saúde), free and universal to everyone. In a few words, it does not matter from where you come or any other socioeconomic status: you will get treated. It allows people of low income to receive proper medical attention through a great variety of programs. However, in recent years, internal corruption and drastic funding cuts are bleeding this health model that, in previous years, was considered a good model for the entire world (Refs. 1, 2, 3). In Germany, where the health insurance is paid and obligatory, the system tends to work better as the income distribution discrepancies are not so evident and the payment for health care is proportional to individual salaries.
The politicians in Brazil dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic differently compared to the German politicians – how do you feel about this?
Germany’s health officials acted quickly to establish lockdown measures and even enforce social distancing when needed, all based on scientific data acquired from hard-hit neighbouring countries like Italy, France and Spain. Tracking infected patients to reduce the spread of the virus was another important measure. Also, the strong approach for testing as many cases as possible is one of the reasons why Germany has such lower mortality rates (Ref. 4). Along with its reliable health system, the population had trust in their government and the importance of these new rules. Unfortunately, Brazilian health officials and scientists struggle since the beginning of the epidemic to establish a safe environment for the population (Ref. 5). The imbecile, inconsequent Brazilian president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, dismisses the threat and misadvises the population to join him in self-medication on drugs whose effect against the virus has not been consolidated (e.g., cloroquine, hidroxycloroquine, azitromycin). He also ignores any rule for social distancing and he is often seen in the streets, hugging and shaking hands. In the past two months, two Health Ministers resigned their position due to disagreements with the president: the ministers wanted to impose strict rules and the president opposed them, concerned with “economy and family values”. Recently, he decided to hide the number of active cases and death toll from the world, making Brazil the only country out of the official numbers of the John Hopkins University. By the way, we are still without a proper Minister of Health, in the middle of the pandemic.
So, yes, I feel disgusted, angry, revolted and inconsolable. Brazil is a country of continental proportions and the evolution of the disease might be out of grasp if proper precautions don´t take place immediately.
Were you worried about your family and friends?
The concern about their welfare and health grows by the day, with every negative piece of news that comes from that side of the ocean. Many friends and relatives are confused with the huge amount of information circulating on social media and I try my best to answer their questions and clarify some many misconcepts. Unfortunately, I also have to face close people that support the president on the false premise of “strong economy”, believing that COVID-19 is nothing but a “tiny flu”, as the president quoted himself. I don´’t only wish they were all here with me, in a relatively safe country, but my true desire is that the current government leaders are removed from power and replaced by someone with a minimum sense of collectivity and humanity.
1. Castro et al., 2019. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31243-7
2. Massuda et al., 2018. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2018-000829
3. Souza, 2017. doi: 10.1057/s41271-017-0083-y
4. Bennhold, 2020. New York Times article, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/04/world/europe/germany-coronavirus-death-rate.html
5. Fraser, 2020. doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-01506-2
6. Londoño, 2020. New York Times article, available at <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/08/world/americas/brazil-coronavirus-statistics.html>
The first lockdown also led to a sudden shutdown of the universities. The curriculum changed to online presence leading to difficulties for students and teacher. Here, we asked a medical student how the transition to online presence went by.
How did the change to digital semester go by? What is the biggest change for you?
The change from the normal semester to the digital version went rather clumsily at our university. The sudden change to digital lessons seemed to completely overwhelm the administration. We started two weeks late into the semester and didn’t get any study material beforehand. Now we have some Zoom lectures and Seminars each week. For me the biggest change was to be completely isolated from the other students and to have no practical courses. As I am a med student it was kind of weird to be allowed to work in hospitals but not to go there for teaching purposes.
Do you think that the University of Bonn was well prepared for this change and do you feel that teacher and students are well protected?
I think the University of Bonn was horribly prepared for this change. It would have been easy to send some material as Powerpoint or PDF files before the official semester started. Apparently none of that was possible here. As we always have to fight for the lecture documents to be available to us students for studying, I wasn’t surprised that this rather easy task could not be managed here. Instead we lost two weeks of Uni time and had seminars on bank holidays instead, to catch up the time we lost. Additionally, the exam phase will be postponed what might collide with plans for the lecture-free-time as internships a. o
What is your favourite change that you would like to keep for the future? Do you also think that false changes were made?
My favourite change would be that I don’t have to run from work to the lecture rooms anymore but am able to participate while in the office. This allows me to participate in more lectures than normally. It would be great if that kind of flexibility would stay in the future. Further, it is great that some docents even record themselves so we can listen to the lecture later on. For me the most fatal changes were to cut out all the practical lessons at med school. With the right amount of organization and protection it should have been able to give more practical insights, especially concerning highly practical fields like surgery
Interviews were conducted by Anja vom Hemdt