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What The Pandemic Now Looks Like In Germany, Kenya And Colombia


Call it the summer of cautious optimism. We, of course, don't know everything the second summer of the pandemic may have in store for us. But the CDC says more than half of American adults are now fully vaccinated. All over the country, restrictions are being lifted. Last night, I hosted my first dinner party inside - everybody vaccinated, everybody around the kitchen table - first dinner party inside in 16 months.

In other parts of the world, though, the picture looks really different. So we're going to check in now with correspondents on three continents to get a sense of how the pandemic is going where they are. Joining us now from Europe, NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin; also, Eyder Peralta in Nairobi, Kenya; and John Otis in Bogota, Colombia.

Welcome, gentlemen.



ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. Rob, I'm going to let you kick us off because there's some good news in Germany. There's been a big delay, but the vaccine rollout's finally rolling out.


KELLY: Infection rate is down. What's the mood there?

SCHMITZ: Euphoric - it feels sort of like a big party. Berlin is emerging from this nearly nine-month-long hibernation during which everyone's been under some level of lockdown, and that's largely over now. And people are outside, and they're just very happy. And, you know, I first noticed this change this past Friday. The sidewalks were just filled with people, many eating at restaurants, gathering at parks, drinking at the bars. You know, and this is coinciding with the first real dose of summer weather. The sun at this time of year this far north goes down around 9:30 or 10:00 at night, and people are celebrating until the wee hours. So it's been, really, a big change.

KELLY: Eyder Peralta, how about where you are? You are in, as we mentioned, the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

PERALTA: I'm going to have to be the reality check on this because here, we just emerged from a third wave. So we are seeing, you know, many of the same things that Rob is describing, but the thing that everyone knows here is that this isn't going to last. As you mentioned, you know, the U.S. is vaccinating at a fast clip, but most countries here in Africa have barely vaccinated 1% of their population. So we're stuck in this terrible cycle. Restaurants just opened up here in Kenya, but in Uganda next door, they just shuttered schools. South Africa, which has been the hardest hit country on the continent, is going into its third wave. So normal life - it seems pretty distant for us right now.

KELLY: How about for you, John Otis, there in Colombia? Give us a sense of life there right now.

OTIS: Well, yeah. I guess you might say it's another reality check here as well. Everybody's still wearing a mask. COVID's still on a rampage. A lot of schools in rural areas are still closed, and only about 11% of Colombians have been vaccinated. It's higher than Africa, but 11% still isn't great. Lockdowns have ended, but still there's a lot of stores and restaurants and businesses closed because Colombia has also been hit by this wave of anti-government demonstrations.

And what's happened is that the pandemic threw so many Colombians into poverty that it's produced this kind of social explosion. Protesters have been battling anti-riot police, who respond with tear gas and live ammo, and more than 40 people have been killed. You know, and the anger is understandable, but these protests have now been going on for six weeks. So you've also got a situation where the protests are paralyzing the country and making this economic misery even worse.

KELLY: And we've been seeing grim headlines out of other parts of South America as well. What are conditions, for example, in Venezuela, next door to you?

OTIS: Venezuela - it's just sort of a black hole because it's an authoritarian government there, and they treat COVID like some kind of state secret. There's no reliable information. They're saying that only 2,500 Venezuelans have died from COVID. But, you know, if you look at a country like Peru, which has about the same population, they're saying 180,000 Peruvians have died. So nobody thinks Venezuelans' numbers are anywhere near accurate.

And, you know, the other thing going on in Venezuela is that they've had a health crisis for many years. You go to the hospital, there's no electricity. There's no water. There's no medicines. So a lot of COVID patients are taking their chances at home, and many are actually dying at home. And then one last bit of really horrible news from Venezuela is that their vaccination program has been so slow that people are saying it might be a decade before everybody gets their shots.

KELLY: Oh, my goodness. So still a long, long way to go in your neck of the woods it sounds like.

Rob Schmitz, let me steer us back to Europe. Very different picture, as we noted. People are out and about, but you still have some restrictions in place?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, a few. I mean, and what's sort of - what's open varies from state to state within Germany. And here in Berlin, the restaurants are open again as well as bars. If you want to go inside, you have to show proof you're fully vaccinated or you've tested negative. And masks, of course, are still required indoors and on public transportation. You know, the reopening here is all very recent, you know, within the past week or two. And tomorrow, I think, will be a big day because schools in Berlin will reopen to all students, which is huge for parents who've been juggling their jobs with making sure their kids are keeping track of their homework, something that feels like it's been dragging on forever. I speak as a father of two.

You know, another milestone is that starting this week, all adults are going to be able to get vaccinated here in Germany. Up until now, vaccinations have been running on a priority system. And as of today, nearly half of Germany has been given at least one vaccination, while 1 in 5 people are now fully vaccinated.

KELLY: The tourism industry is so huge a part of Europe's economy. I know a lot of Americans are hoping to travel, get over to Europe this summer. Will that be possible? What does that look like?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I think so. You know, the European Union has promised that Europe will reopen to Americans and others this summer, but the details are still being hammered out. But it's reasonable to expect that all of Europe will open its borders starting in July. Some member states, though, have jumped the gun. They've opened their borders themselves to non-Europeans. And that list includes Greece, Croatia, Italy, Iceland, and starting this week, both France and Spain will be open for vaccinated Americans as well.

KELLY: Eyder, how about in Nairobi? Look ahead for me. What do the next few months look like in East Africa?

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, look - people here have been just deeply affected by the mitigation efforts in this pandemic. One report found that more than a million girls here on the continent may never return to school because they got pregnant during the school closures. I was in Kibera here - which is one of the big slums in Nairobi - and I met so many people who have been out of jobs for more than a year. I met so many parents who don't have the money to send their kids to school.

And because there is no prospect of a vaccine anytime soon, they're depressed because that means that life will not get back to normal. I mean, it means that they won't get jobs. Their kids will not go back to school. And analysts I've spoken to say that it'll take years to heal that kind of societal damage. I mean, one sort of silver lining to this is that, so far, many African countries have missed the worst of this pandemic. There just haven't been as many deaths here as there have been in the West.

KELLY: A portrait of the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic from three continents. We've been speaking to Rob Schmitz in Berlin, Eyder Peralta in Nairobi and John Otis in Bogota.

Thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise.

OTIS: Thanks.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAECHULGI'S "CALM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.