Germany has offered to take in a handful of coronavirus patients from pandemic-stricken Italy, weeks after the country’s overloaded healthcare system most needed help. Is this belated remorse or just adding insult to injury?
German hospitals “with spare capacity” will open their doors to “at least 47” of Italy’s 80,589 coronavirus patients in a sign of European solidarity, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced on Thursday in a statement that appeared to be entirely devoid of self-awareness or irony.
“We stand by our Italian friends. We can only manage this together.”
Not to be outdone, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia announced it would be reaching out a (presumably gloved) hand to 10 Italian patients “in coming days.” Wouldn’t want to take them in all at once…
It’s not that Italy can’t use the help – more coronavirus patients have died there (8,215 as of Thursday) than in any other country, including China, and its healthcare system was quickly overwhelmed as diagnoses surged early this month. Germany, on the other hand, has had just 267 deaths, and has diagnosed just over half the number of confirmed cases of its southern neighbor.
But Germany wasn’t much of a “friend” when its assistance was most desperately needed. Had Berlin sought to make a difference in the outcome of the Italian epidemic, it would have stepped in weeks ago, sharing its medical equipment with Italy’s woefully-undersupplied hospitals instead of banning the export of masks to other European countries.
Meanwhile, instead of stepping in to rescue splintering European Solidarity, the EU dragged its feet while mouthing platitudes, refusing to close its doors to travelers from coronavirus hotspots lest it be accused of racism – even as member nations began pivoting on a dime from spouting open-borders rhetoric to sealing their borders with Italy.
An increasingly panicked Rome was forced to reach further airfield, finally receiving nine cargo planes’ worth of direly-needed emergency aid from none other than Russia. Its so-called allies had proven to be little more than fair-weather friends, and the shock of being abandoned in a crisis is not something a nation forgets easily.
In fact, with Italy reporting lower numbers of coronavirus deaths for four straight days as of Thursday and Germany’s own infected count accelerating, a cynical observer might suggest Berlin is trying to rack up some last-minute karma in case it finds itself in a position where it needs Italy’s help managing its own epidemic.
If that’s the case, perhaps Italy will remember those 60-something patients Berlin took off its hands during the closing seconds of its hour of need, and not the crushing indifference with which its early cries for help were met.
Perhaps Italy will also forget that it was Germany that blocked a proposed EU aid agreement to provide financial stimulus to member countries hit the hardest by the epidemic. But with the myth of European Solidarity shattered into a thousand pieces, it’s doubtful.
Header: In this photograph taken from behind a window, doctors work on Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit of San Matteo Hospital, in Pavia, northern Italy, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)