HAMBURG, Germany — Jon Gugisberg, a Fargo native who has lived in Hamburg for the last 17 years, is experiencing firsthand what Europe is going through as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Europe is moving toward a complete lockdown as countries close borders with no travel advised. On Monday, March 16, Germany announced it was imposing temporary controls on its borders with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland to help contain the outbreak. Parks are shut down, restaurants must close by 6 p.m. and no travel is allowed.
“We had tickets for a concert at the Philharmonic in downtown Hamburg this past Tuesday, and they sent out an email that day requesting that all ticket goers stay home,” Gugisberg said over the phone.
Gugisberg is one of many who has had to cancel trips, including a vacation in mid-April up to an island on the Baltic Sea coast. Since then, access to those islands has been closed off.
The Fargo native, who attended Fargo South High School and studied at the University of Minnesota, said no one really “woke up” and realized what was happening until problems arose in Italy.
“They have introduced quite a number of measures as far as all the cancellations of schools, while requesting that people only go out for the most pressing needs in order to reduce your social contact,” Gugisberg said, who took a job in Hamburg back in the mid '90s with Great Plains Software.
According to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine COVID-19 map, Germany had roughly 22,000 cases of COVID-19, with 84 deaths reported as of 5 p.m. CDT Saturday. Although China has the most cases at over 80,000, European countries such as Italy, Spain, France and Germany are leading the globe in the number of new cases, leading to country-wide shutdowns.
Gugisberg said he believes the German government's response has been adequate, but even more can be done.
“I read a letter an Italian journalist wrote to the Boston Globe, warning America of what they could have done differently and when, and I think we’re like that in the rest of Europe, too,” Gugusberg said, adding there are complete lockdowns in Spain, Italy and France.
“The government needs to get on TV and say, ‘Everyone, stay home,’” Gugisberg stressed. “Other than that, Germans are well organized, they respond well to things. The government was right on top of things and there’s no shortage of information.”
As the outbreak continues, photos and videos of empty shelves, stacks of toilet paper and countless cleaning supplies continue to appear on social media, and that problem isn’t just happening in America, as Gugisberg said.
“I hit three different grocery stores just to see what was going on and sure enough, a lot of empty shelves, a lot of people really stocking up,” he said, adding some stores have introduced rationing on certain items, but that the supply chain will keep flowing, allowing stores to remain open and avoid any shortages.
One of the bigger areas of concern Gugisberg had with the response to the outbreak was the high number of young people still going out to bars and restaurants, potentially unknowingly spreading the disease that could impact older and more vulnerable citizens.
“It’s about spreading it and we need to protect the old,” he said, stressing citizens will have to be patient and hunker down for a while, but that it won’t last forever.
Gugisberg’s son, Finn, won’t be in school for the next six weeks, while the city of Hamburg will be closed until April 30.
“Who knows, hopefully they don’t have to extend it. Strange times,” Gugisberg said.
The uncertainty surrounding the virus outbreak and when it all will end seems to be unanswerable. Just last week, all sporting events were going on uninterrupted, schools were in session and the American public didn’t seem to be too affected by the dangers of the virus.
Things can change in an instant, as Gugisberg says, “Everything and nothing is a surprise, you don’t know what’s going to happen next, everything is so new.”