German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Image: EPA/Sean Gallup/POOL)

In November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with an approval rating of 74% according to one opinion poll, wanted tighter rules on masks in schools and social contact. But many states were against it. The result was the national "hard lockdown" that began in Germany in mid-December.

Since authoritarian China extinguished the first wave of coronavirus in Hubei province with a disciplined approach impossible in the chaotically democratic West, the pandemic has been seen as something of a stress test for federal and more centralised systems of governance.

In a paper published before the second wave in Europe, organisational studies academics at Hamburg University argued that, in democracies, a centralised approach was most effective in “high-impact, sudden disasters like earthquakes and wildfires”, where clear chains of command and standard operating procedures were already in place. First responders tend of operate within strict, top-down hierarchies.