What was your worst disaster in relation to the time

"Natural disasters are certainly more likely"


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ZEIT ONLINE: Was it right to slow down the economy like this to protect against the virus?

Nabholz: Absolutely. At the time - depending on the country - the strict curfews or contact restrictions were issued, we still knew very little about the virus. But we saw the pictures from Italy and we knew: this is a global pandemic. Governments had little choice but to act quickly. At such a moment you have to protect the population, that is first.

ZEIT ONLINE: How badly does the pandemic hit Swiss Re?

Nabholz: It is too early to assess the ultimate impact of the current crisis on Swiss Re, but for now the damage is perfectly manageable. We have some insurance claims due to the cancellation or postponement of major events. But it is estimated that what we have to pay out is not billions - natural disasters cause much, much greater economic damage. And in the area of ‚Äč‚Äčlife insurance, too, we are still a long way from major losses, although so many people have already died.

ZEIT ONLINE: Does that mean that such a pandemic can be insured without any problems?

Nabholz: It depends on. In this pandemic, older people with previous illnesses are at the greatest risk of death. The over 70 year olds. With the Spanish flu, however, the mortality rate was highest among 30 to 40-year-olds. Such a pandemic would do much more damage to life insurers than the current one.

But it is also clear that the state cushions the greatest systemic damage, not the insurance companies. It is the same now and it is an enormous financial burden. Governments must consider how they want to cover the pandemic risk in the future.

ZEIT ONLINE: The World Bank has issued a special pandemic bond to help countries that get into financial difficulties as a result of a pandemic. Swiss Re and Munich Re helped design the bond. How does it work?

Nabholz: In a nutshell: The fund is triggered as soon as a certain number of people in several countries die of the same disease within a specified period of time. Then he pays money to the World Bank, which in a next step invests in countermeasures in the countries affected by the pandemic. The fund was triggered for the first time in April and paid nearly $ 200 million to more than 60 developing countries to buy medical and protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

ZEIT ONLINE: One could have expected this pandemic. There were simulations for what happened now, there were Sars, Mers and Ebola. Why weren't we better prepared?

Nabholz: Some countries weren't all that badly prepared. Last year, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Economist Intelligence Unit of the magazine of the same name developed an index that showed how well the nations of the world were prepared for a pandemic. For example, the index contained whether a country had a pandemic plan, recorded the number of hospital beds and the stocks of protective equipment such as masks. A ranking list emerged from it. Finland was in first place, Germany was still in the top ten. Exactly the countries that did very well in the corona pandemic did well. Of course, nobody is perfect.

ZEIT ONLINE: What can Germany do better in the future?

Nabholz: I think many countries have noticed that they have to keep more medical supplies in their home country in order not to be dependent on imports. This not only applies to Germany, but also to Switzerland.

ZEIT ONLINE: As a reinsurer, where do you see the next major risk?

Nabholz: That would be a pandemic with a different risk profile than Covid-19, as a result of which, for example, more people die or younger, healthier age groups or their viruses mutate as quickly as, for example, flu viruses.

ZEIT ONLINE: How likely is it that such a pandemic will come?

Nabholz: Natural disasters are certainly more likely. But you can never feel safe.