Why do people escape detachment

When keeping your distance is not possible: where social distance reaches its limits

"At the moment, only distance is an expression of care." The Chancellor's sentence puts the concept of care in a context in which giving suddenly has something to do with omission. And with waiver.

Doctors and nurses are the exception to the rule

“At the moment, only distance is an expression of care” - that was one of the key messages in the address to the population by Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 18th. What a clever rhetoric, I thought when I heard this, because the sentence puts the concept of caring in a context in which giving suddenly has something to do with omission. And with renunciation: If I care about your health, I stay away from you. Because I don't want to endanger you, I refrain from being close to you. Merkel just formulated a precise ethical requirement and turned the relationship between closeness and distance on its head.

Almost two weeks later, almost everyone understood - the distance is good. However, voices are already being heard calling for the ban on contact to be lifted at a time when, contrary to better knowledge, people are still gathering in parks or escaping the quarantine with friends at home. After all, apartments are not checked and the visit will probably not be stopped on the way.

Double commitment

And then there are those for whom social distance is not easily enforceable and also collides with the respective necessities: Medical staff must still express their care in very direct personal contact with people. Nursing staff, takes care of those who can no longer cope on their own. This creates a kind of double obligation - on the one hand, to be physically present at work and then to keep your distance privately.

I want to know how it is. That's why I arrange to meet Valentina for a video call. I already know you from pre-Corona times. She is an assistant doctor in Berlin and comes from Italy.

When I asked, she told me that she had not yet had any direct contact with corona sufferers, but that she still had to be more careful than others. The medical staff are aware of the danger and try to protect family and friends. From Italy, where her family also lives, she knows that doctors or nursing staff sometimes try to interrupt living together under one roof by placing children with their grandparents and foregoing visits themselves. I can imagine that such a separation will increase the stress that the job entails in these times.

Weighing between what is possible and what is responsible

Valentina has no family in Germany, but she reckons that she will not be able to see her friends in the near future so as not to endanger them unnecessarily. Psychologically, it is an extreme burden to suddenly have to cut off all personal contact. One has to weigh carefully between what is theoretically still allowed and what is actually responsible.

And of course she's also afraid of infecting herself. The relaxation of the quarantine recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute, according to which medical staff now “no longer have to be in quarantine for so long after close, unprotected contact with COVID-19 sufferers”, or may even continue to work as long as no symptoms occur she looks critically. Of course, if you're doing very well and you don't have any symptoms, that might be possible. But as soon as you don't feel completely well, you should also call in sick.

Nursing staff at the limits of what is possible

I imagine what it might be like in Italy, where medical staff work at the absolute limits of their resilience, come into daily contact with infected people and become ill themselves. Valentina says that there are already many doctors among the corona victims. Overwork is certainly also a factor that would favor a serious course of the disease.

None of this really works together: on the one hand, the inevitable contact and on the other hand, the attempt to keep your distance. Many people with COVID-19 are currently dying without having seen their families, only with the assistance of medical personnel in protective suits. According to the Tagesschau report from March 26, even old people were found in several Spanish retirement homes without any care. Some lay dead in their beds, some were neglected.

How can one expect that nursing staff will continue to do their work and, under the most difficult conditions, give other people the care that is actually now characterized by distance? How should such an irresolvable contradiction be practically - and psychologically - lived? In Germany this has so far been less noticeable, as medical capacities have not yet been exhausted and the health system has not yet reached its limits. But that doesn't mean that it can't come to that. And then the medical profession and nursing staff and the so-called risk groups are the ones who suffer most from the fact that they may not have responded to Angela Merkel's statement and the numerous references from science, clinics and politics early enough and with enough solidarity.

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