Werner Baumann

Coronavirus: Back To A Degree Of Normality

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed more victims than any of us could have imagined. The images from hospitals around the world are a painful reminder of the need to strengthen our health systems and support health care professionals.

At the same time we must be mindful of the social and economic impact of the current lockdown. The world stumbled into this situation in an uncoordinated fashion. That makes it all the more important now to organize an orderly exit from the crisis. We cannot afford to see things in black and white. By making responsible decisions and keeping a sense of proportion, we can protect high-risk groups and start lifting the restrictions in an appropriate manner.

That’s the spirit in which German politicians have steered the country through the first phase of the crisis. So far, it seems, the federal government has managed to strike the delicate balance between protecting people’s health and the resulting restrictions on business. Yet we’re already hearing of companies that can’t avoid filing for bankruptcy. Emptying order books and uncertain prospects are worrying companies, employees, investors and customers.

Werner Baumann

Werner Baumann

CEO of Bayer

We all need to realize that government aid packages, however diverse and extensive they may be, can only ever provide short-term relief. No economy in the world can withstand such an exceptional situation over the long term. The huge economic consequences are already becoming apparent. That’s why we must move on as quickly as possible to the question of how we can continue to stem the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time organizing an orderly transition to the next phase of our crisis management. We need a precise roadmap and a countrywide effort as part of a joint European endeavor in order a regain a degree of economic normality.

We shouldn’t be under any illusions about this: even when the economy starts up again we will still be a long way from the conditions we had before the crisis. Some restrictions on our freedom will remain for the time being. So we need to differentiate and weigh the risks. It’s in everyone’s interest for some areas of our social and economic life to return to normal. Here are some of the things we should keep in mind as we work towards this:

  • Responsibility and a sense of proportion: Our liberal constitutional order – and entrepreneurial freedom in particular – are inseparably linked to the concept of responsibility. That applies more than ever in the coronavirus era. We must all make responsible use of the economic normality we regain. That also means keeping up strict hygiene and social distancing standards. Precautions we’ve initiated at our production plants, for example, such as taking people’s temperatures when they enter the building, need to be maintained over the coming months. With suitable protective measures in place, large parts of the manufacturing, trade and service sectors should be able to restart operations. Safety must remain the priority in this phase as well.
  • Relieve the burden on the health system: The condition of our health system needs to be improved. We must relieve the pressure on hospitals’ emergency care facilities for the long term while at the same time ensuring treatment and preventive care are available for the maximum number of people. To do that we must create new treatment protocols with a combination of early testing, medicinal treatment and digital monitoring of patients so that they are not hospitalized unless they really need to be. At Bayer we’re contributing substantially to this by making laboratory capacities available free of charge to perform several thousand tests per day.

    In addition, laboratory tests and initial clinical trials have indicated that our malaria medicine Resochin reduces the COVID-19 viral load. We are donating all of our available stocks of Resochin along with the entire amount of the drug that we are able to manufacture in Europe and worldwide upon resumption of production.
  • Improve coordination: We’ve seen how a crisis of global dimensions can render some national decision-making competencies obsolete. The world needs far better coordination for crises of this magnitude. We’re seeing every day how decisions made in isolation at national level – in matters such as border closures or export controls – are seriously disrupting our supply chains and thus the manufacture of vital products, in some cases preventing their production altogether. We need better international coordination and the necessary framework. That also means providing greater resources for the WHO, the G20 and our European institutions. Considering the tremendous damage the current crisis is causing to our prosperity, these will be resources well invested.
  • Differentiating by risk group: While we need special protection for certain age groups and people with existing medical conditions, scientific data indicates that more freedom would be desirable for the younger age groups. Maintaining restrictions on social contacts and taking other safety precautions for older citizens protects them and allows everyone else to return to normality more quickly.
  • Expand digitalization: We’ve all learned in recent weeks how much can be done digitally. On the principle that nothing is impossible, people are treading new paths – both at our company and in government and administration. I can only encourage them to maintain this approach. At the end of April, Bayer will become the first DAX company to hold an entirely virtual Annual Stockholders’ Meeting. In doing so we’re making use of a new legal option and helping to get back to some degree of normality in this area too.
  • Ensure planning security: To plan the gradual rebuilding of the economy, especially in light of the special precautions still needed to protect people’s health, companies need clear and, above all, coordinated signals from the politicians regarding the timeline. Those signals must be given by the federal and state governments.

I’m convinced we will overcome this crisis. We must learn the right lessons from it, and that includes addressing the reliability of supply in Germany and Europe. In my opinion we also need a new debate about the value of science in particularly critical areas. But we haven’t reached that point yet. Our task now is to prudently tackle the next phase of this crisis and enable a cautious return to a degree of economic normality. We will make our contribution to achieving that goal.