This April, Walther Leonhard got an unusual call from the authorities in Rosenheim, his hometown in southern Germany. He was being given a new job, in a new field, with a title that had just been invented, “containment scout”.
Leonhard, 33, who had been working as a court officer in Munich, was soon back home and hitting the phones. He was the latest recruit into Germany’s army of Kontaktmanagers (tracers) — the foot soldiers of its strategy for containing coronavirus.
Leonhard’s job is to call people who have tested positive — and all those they have recently come into contact with — to tell them to self-isolate for a fortnight. It’s not much fun. A lot of people are scared and confused when he breaks the news.
“They ask how they’ll be able to feed themselves, what they should tell their boss, whether they can go for a walk — and you tell them, ‘No, you have to stay inside your four walls,’ ” he says. “And you say, ‘This isn’t some mean, vile thing the government is doing to you — it’s for your own protection, and to protect those around you.’”
Combined with its six-week shutdown, Germany’s “track and trace” system has been instrumental in stalling the spread of Covid-19 and preventing it from overwhelming the health system.