Debate on the Corona strategy: what politicians and experts are discussing


Status: 22.06.2022 2:28 p.m

In the middle of summer, the corona incidence increases significantly – nobody doubts a wave in autumn anyway. Even in the third year of the pandemic, politicians and experts are struggling to find the right course. Answers to important questions.

How dangerous is the Corona summer wave?

The currently dominant omicron variants often seem to cause only mild symptoms. For older people and risk patients, however, Corona is still a potentially deadly disease. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) assumes that the summer wave will not overload the clinics, so there is no reason to panic. However, he recommends wearing a mask indoors voluntarily and completing vaccinations if you have not already done so.

Portugal has already overcome the wave that is still to come. There was no overload of the intensive care units. But they were very full and the number of deaths related to Corona rose sharply. In Germany, the intensive care units will be less busy, suspects Hajo Zeeb from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology. “In Portugal, many people had been vaccinated well before the new wave, in Germany the last vaccination for the majority of the population was not that long ago,” he explains. This may result in better protection against infection in Germany.

Will there still be free corona tests for everyone?

You can still get a free test until the end of June. After that, Federal Minister of Health Lauterbach wants to limit the citizen tests and only offer them free of charge to certain groups of the population.

The chairman of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, also recommends the abolition of the citizen tests without cause. He told the editorial network Germany (RND) that such tests “bring very little and cost a lot”. Some state health ministers have already criticized Lauterbach’s initiative. They continue to think that free offers are important because of the increased number of infections.

What would a compulsory vaccination for over 60-year-olds bring?

The states of Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and Bavaria are demanding it. The draft law for general vaccination failed in the spring. The Baden-Württemberg Health Minister Manfred Lucha (Greens) believes that more severe illnesses, especially among older people, are to be expected in autumn. That’s why “we should now pool all our strengths and not give up on compulsory vaccinations from the age of 60”.

Immunologically, it makes sense to vaccinate everyone over 60, says Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology. Nevertheless, he advises against compulsory vaccination. “We don’t know exactly how big the vaccination gap is among the elderly,” he points out. “And with a duty we may only create resistance.” Politically, too, the push by the three federal states does not seem to find a majority.

Should everyone be vaccinated for the fourth time?

The green health politician Janosch Dahmen brought this idea up in mid-June in a conversation with the “Rheinische Post”. So far, the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends the fourth vaccination only for people over 70, risk patients and medical and nursing staff.

In any case, it is not harmful to be vaccinated a fourth time, says immunologist Watzl. A slight improvement in protection against severe courses can be expected. One does not have to wait until vaccines are available that are better adapted to the omicron virus variants. Because nothing speaks against a fifth vaccination in the fall. “But recommending further vaccinations now would give the wrong impression that three doses are no longer protected,” warns Watzl.

What can we expect in autumn?

“The fact that this time we are experiencing a wave of infection even in summer shows how contagious the current virus variants are,” says Carsten Watzl. Another wave in autumn is therefore highly likely. Nobody can predict whether a new, more dangerous variant will then appear. “For the survival strategy of the virus, it is above all favorable to be highly contagious,” explains Watzl. If the infected person later falls seriously ill, this brings the virus neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. “At the moment I don’t think we will need lockdowns again in the fall, but we may have to wear masks indoors,” Watzl suspects.

Such options for protection against corona are regulated in the Infection Protection Act. But that expires on September 23. Many federal states are calling for work on the revision of the law to begin as soon as possible. However, the federal government would first like to wait for an opinion from the committee of experts, which evaluates the corona measures and is to be published at the end of June. The FDP in particular had insisted on it. Baden-Württemberg’s Health Minister Manfred Lucha warns against waiting too long. A decision after the parliamentary summer break is too late for the federal states. After all, they would have to implement the corona containment measures.

The discussion also includes how much wearing masks actually brings. One should not overestimate their effectiveness, other measures are more efficient, says the Hamburg virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit. In an interview with the RND, he cites working from home as an example.

“Doubting the effectiveness of masks is backward-looking,” says epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb. There are enough studies that show that masks make sense. It is better to prescribe a mask requirement too early than too late. If you wait until the intensive care units are full, then there are already so many sick leave in the entire population that it is also bad for the economy. “The doubters in the FDP should also think about that,” says Zeeb.

How likely are school closures in autumn?

“School closures can only be prevented with the option of compulsory masks and regular testing of all students,” says Maike Finnern, federal chairwoman of the Education and Science Union (GEW). But even unprovoked tests in schools are controversial. Thomas Fischbach from the professional association of paediatricians considers them unnecessary. Only those who have symptoms should be tested, he says in an interview with the “Rheinische Post”. And there should only be a mask requirement in the classroom in hotspots.

“We have to protect the teachers and vulnerable children in schools in particular,” suggests immunologist Watzl. One possibility is to offer distance learning to children with risky previous illnesses. There seems to be agreement in science and politics that school closures should be prevented at all costs. There is clear evidence that closing schools has an effect in the fight against the virus, says epidemiologist Zeeb. But the damage to children and young people and the education system is very great. It is always better to reintroduce protective measures such as the obligation to wear a mask.

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