April 10, 2020

Lockdown News 3: France vs Germany

We’re locked up in France, but we also have friends in Germany and Italy and things are going a bit different in those countries.

Stay at home! (Photo: Daniel)
Stay at home! (Photo: Daniel)

We’re locked up in France, but we also have friends in Germany and Italy and things are going a bit different in those countries.

At distance

We all know the drill now: Wash your hands, cover your mouth and stay away from people.

Most of us also know why: “The Coronavirus” (also known as SARS-Cov-2) spreads through close contact between people – mostly by small droplets that you cough up or exhale.

That’s why measures everywhere are all designed to keep us at a safe distance from each other.

So some things are the same everywhere: To prevent gatherings, you have to shut down place where people mingle – like schools, bars and restaurants.

But even with the same goal in mind, the approach varies quite a bit.


France, in good centralistic style, enacted a complete confinement: You have to stay home, you cannot travel anywhere. Visits to friends, relatives or neighbours are forbidden. All parks and public places are closed.

The lockdown was swift and complete, even though some Parisians used the last few hours of “freedom” to escape to their holiday homes in the countryside.

All rules of the confinement are described in detail - the government FAQ seems about 100 items long.

And when president Macron declared war on the virus, he didn’t forget to mention that he also deployed 100.000 police to enforce the quarantine rules. Since then they have handed out hundreds of citations each day.


For average people, the measures in France are quite similar to those in Italy, only that the Italians (obviously) arrived at a vastly more complex self-certification form.

The main difference is that Italy found it neccessary to also close down non-essential industries.

Examples rules

  • No visits to anyone
  • You can do sports outside for at most 1 hour per day and at most 1km from your home
  • You must not drive your car without an “important reason”
  • Cycling is not allowed for pleasure, only for shopping and work, but a child may cycle if the accompanying adult is not


Germany initally seemed envious of the “swift” French approach. The federal government has few powers even during health emergencies, and people where getting anxious when it took the federal states a few days to figure everything out.

But things worked out quite well. There are general guidelines and the states adjust the measures to suit their current situation. Some regions set up travel restrictions, but in general Germans are trusted to do the right thing.

If you look at Berlin’s measures as an example:

Germany’s answer to the confinement is the Kontaktverbot (contact prohibition): You can still go out for shopping or to talke a walk, without any papewerwork – with one exception: You must not meet with more than one other person in public and keep your distance to everyone else.

You can still go to parks, cycle around or have a walk in the forest. Berlin even reinstated the right to sit down parks, as long as you do it with members of your household and there are 5 meters between each group.

Restaurants, shops and public institutions are closed there as well; and there’s also police enforcement and fines, but relatively few citations were handed out in most Germany cities.

In the other hand, Germans are still known to file noise complaints if the neighbors start singing on their balconies.

The differences

  Germany France
Going outside Okay for neccessities, but stay away from people. Only for “important” things. Paperwork required.
Hashtag #WirBleibenZuhause (we stay at home) #RestesChezVous (Stay home!)
Travel Restricted in some regions. Okay in others. Nobody goes anywhere.
Paperwork None. Fill a self-certification each time you go out.
Take a walk Yes. Yes, with certifcation within 1km of home. Max. 1h
Jogging Yes. Not between 10-19:00 (in Paris)
Music on the balcony Yes, but neighbors may call the police. Yes.
Dificult to get… Toilet paper, flour, desinfectant, masks, yeast For us: Limited crisp&wine selection on Saturdays. Masks also sold out.
Minimum distance 1,5 meters 1 meter

Does it work?

The word isn’t out yet if one approach works better than the other. Germany was lucky in that the pandemic arrived relatively late and thanks to extensive testing the country had somewhat of a head start. France was quickly moving in the same direction as Italy, with ICUs in the East starting already getting overrun in mid-March, and the country saw that it needed to do something.

That said, the German approach will possibly cause a bit less collateral damage, as people aren’t completely locked up and have more flexibility to deal with life.

The measures are showing effects in both countries, though nobody knows what the easter holidays will bring.

In the future

If the current measures are to be relaxed (and they have to be), we do need smarter approaches to prevent a rebound of cases until a vaccine is available.

We’ll still have to see how the countries deal with privacy and personal freedoms on topics like tracing apps and masks. In Germany a group is already working on a privacy-aware contact-tracing app, but France may be more likely to introduce such a thing by public order.

We like your feedback

We want to cover more perspectives from all around the world. Give us your insight and opion on how things look like where you live and how you think this crisis is handled.

We’ll publish the answers here, if we get any.

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