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Germany, Once a Model, Is Swamped Like Everyone Else by Pandemic’s Second Wave

ROSTOCK, Germany — It was barely noon, but Steffen Bockhahn’s phone had not stopped ringing with people wanting to know if they qualified for a vaccination, and if not now, when?

Days earlier Germany had changed its guidance on who qualified for vaccines, resulting in a seemingly endless stream of questions from worried local residents to Mr. Bockhahn, the health minister for this port city in Germany’s northeast.

“No, I’m sorry, but we are not allowed to vaccinate anyone in Category 2 yet, only those nurses or other care givers are who are in the first priority group,” he told a caller. “You have to wait.”

More than two months into the country’s second full lockdown, people across Germany are growing tired of waiting, whether for vaccines, getting their government compensation, or a return to normalcy. For Germans, it’s a disheartening comedown.

At the start of the pandemic, Germany showed itself to be a global leader in dealing with a once-in-a-century public heath crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel forged a consensus on a lockdown. Her government’s testing and tracing tools were the envy of European neighbors. The country’s death and infection rates were among the lowest in the European Union. Its health care was stellar. And a generally trustful population abided by restrictions with relatively muted grumbling.

No more. In the virus’s second wave, Germany now finds itself swamped like everyone else. A host of tougher new restrictions has stretched on, amid loud complaints, and even occasional protests before everything was shut down again. Still, infection rates hover around 10,000 new cases per day.

Like elsewhere, fears of new variants first identified in England and South Africa are knocking the best-laid plans sideways. Germany’s vaccination program, lashed to the fortunes of the European Union, has floundered. Only 3.5 percent of Germans have received their first shots, and roughly just 2 percent have been fully immunized.

For a country used to being No. 1 in Europe — in economic might, with a reputation for efficiency and organization — the turnabout has not been welcomed.

“For too long the country basked in the glow of its early success,” the left-leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung said in an editorial. “Now the coronavirus has laid bare that Germany has dramatic deficits; in its governance, in its administration and with its politicians.”

A survey by the Pew Research Center showed that while more Germans feel confident in their country’s handling of the pandemic than Americans or Britons, their approval dropped 11 percentage points between June and December 2020.

The mood has only soured further as Germans watch other countries, especially Britain, step up their vaccination campaigns with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — developed with the help of German taxpayers — while they have been left waiting for doses to arrive.

Much of the delay stems from production shortages and Germany’s decision to allow the

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