What the pandemic looks like now in Germany, Kenya and Colombia: NPR

The global fight against COVID-19 is at very different stages from country to country. Reporters on three continents explain the status of the pandemic in Germany, Kenya and Colombia.


Call it the summer of cautious optimism. Of course, we don’t know everything that the second summer of the pandemic has in store for us. But the CDC says more than half of American adults are now fully vaccinated. Restrictions are being lifted across the country. Last night I had my first indoor dinner party – everyone vaccinated, everyone at the kitchen table – first indoor dinner party in 16 months.

In other parts of the world, however, the picture is very different. So now we’re going to check with correspondents on three continents to get a feel for how the pandemic is going where they are. Rob Schmitz from NPR in Berlin now comes from Europe; also Eyder Peralta in Nairobi, Kenya; and John Otis in Bogota, Colombia.

Welcome gentlemen.



ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. Rob, I’ll let you kick us out because there is good news in Germany. There has been a big delay, but the vaccine launch is finally being rolled out.


KELLY: The infection rate has gone down. How is the mood there?

SCHMITZ: Euphoric – it feels like a big party. Berlin is awakening from that almost nine months of hibernation in which everyone was locked in a certain way, and that is now largely over. And the people are out there and they are just very happy. And you know, I first noticed that change last Friday. The sidewalks were filled with people, many ate in restaurants, gathered in parks, drank at the bars. You know, and that coincides with the first proper dose of summer weather. The sun sets this far north around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. at this time of year, and people party until the wee hours of the morning. So it was really a big change.

KELLY: Eyder Peralta, what about you? As already mentioned, you are in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

PERALTA: I have to check the reality, because here we have just emerged from a third wave. So we see a lot of the same things that Rob describes, but everyone here knows that this won’t last. As you mentioned, the US is vaccinating at a rapid pace, but most of the countries here in Africa have barely vaccinated 1% of their population. So we are stuck in this terrible cycle. Restaurants have just opened here in Kenya, but schools have just closed in Uganda next door. South Africa, the hardest hit country on the continent, is entering its third wave. So normal life – it seems pretty far from us right now.

KELLY: How about you, John Otis, there in Colombia? Give us a feel for life there right now.

OTIS: Well, yes. I think you could say here, too, that it is another reality check. Everyone is still wearing a mask. COVID is still raging. Many rural schools are still closed and only about 11% of Colombians are vaccinated. It’s higher than Africa, but 11% is still not great. The lockdowns have ended, but many shops and restaurants and stores are still closed because Colombia has also been hit by this wave of anti-government demonstrations.

And what happened is that the pandemic plunged so many Colombians into poverty that it created this kind of social explosion. Protesters fight anti-riot police, who respond with tear gas and live ammunition, and more than 40 people have been killed. You know, and the anger is understandable, but these protests have been going on for six weeks now. So you also have a situation in which the protests are paralyzing the country and making this economic misery worse.

KELLY: And we’ve seen gritty headlines from other parts of South America too. What are the conditions like in Venezuela next door, for example?

OTIS: Venezuela – it’s just some kind of black hole because there is an authoritarian government there and they treat COVID like some kind of state secret. There is no reliable information. They say only 2,500 Venezuelans have died from COVID. But, you know, if you look at a country like Peru, which has roughly the same population, they say 180,000 Peruvians died. So no one believes the Venezuelan numbers are anywhere near correct.

And you know the other thing about Venezuela is that they have had a health crisis for many years. You go to the hospital, there is no electricity. There is no water. There are no drugs. So many COVID patients take their chances at home, and many actually die at home. And one last really terrible news from Venezuela is that their vaccination program has been so slow that people are saying it could be a decade before everyone got their vaccinations.

KELLY: Oh, my goodness. So it still sounds a long, long way up your neck of the forest.

Rob Schmitz, let me steer us back to Europe. Completely different picture, as we have noticed. People are on the move, but you still have some restrictions?

SCHMITZ: Yes, a few. I mean, and what is so to speak – what is open varies from state to state within Germany. And here in Berlin the restaurants as well as the bars are open again. If you want to go inside, you’ll need to show proof that you have been fully vaccinated or tested negative. Masks are of course still required indoors and on public transport. You know the reopening here is all very new, you know, within the last week or two. And tomorrow, I think, will be a big day because the schools in Berlin are reopening to all students, which is enormous for parents who juggle their jobs with their children keeping an eye on their homework, something that is going to be great feels like this has drawn forever. I speak as a father of two children.

You know, another milestone is that from this week onwards all adults here in Germany can be vaccinated. So far, vaccinations have been carried out according to a priority system. And to date, almost half of Germany has received at least one vaccination, while every fifth person is now fully vaccinated.

KELLY: The tourism industry is such a big part of the European economy. I know a lot of Americans are hoping to travel and come to Europe this summer. Will that be possible? How does it look?

SCHMITZ: Yes, I think so. You know, the European Union promised that Europe would be reopened to Americans and others this summer, but the details are still being worked out. But it is reasonable to expect the whole of Europe to open its borders from July. However, some Member States have skipped the gun. They have opened their borders even to non-Europeans. And that list includes Greece, Croatia, Italy, Iceland, and starting this week, both France and Spain will be open to vaccinated Americans.

KELLY: Eyder, how about Nairobi? Look ahead for me What do the next few months in East Africa look like?

PERALTA: Yes. I mean, look – the people here are just deeply affected by the efforts to contain this pandemic. One report found that more than a million girls here on the continent may never return to school because they became pregnant during school closings. I was here in Kibera – one of the big slums in Nairobi – and met so many people who have been unemployed for over a year. I’ve met so many parents who don’t have the money to send their children to school.

And because there is no prospect of a vaccine anytime soon, they are depressed because that means life is not going to get back to normal. I mean, it means they don’t get jobs. Your children will not go back to school. And analysts I’ve spoken to say it will take years to heal this type of societal harm. I mean, the silver lining is that many African countries have so far missed the worst of this pandemic. There have simply not been as many deaths here as in the west.

KELLY: A portrait of the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic from three continents. We spoke to Rob Schmitz in Berlin, Eyder Peralta in Nairobi and John Otis in Bogota.

Many Thanks.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise.

OTIS: Thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.


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