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"We must look at the side-effects"

by Hendrik Streeck and Harald Neuber Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 at 6:34 PM

"Restricting basic rights is no small matter, and it is the duty of politics to restore their exercise as soon as the infection situation permits." (Lockdown consequences: daycare centers and schools to open) German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Top virologist in FOCUS online interview

Streeck: "Shutdown is like a drug - we must also look at the side effects"

Hendrik Streeck wants more room for discussion in the Corona debate.

[This interview published on Feb 10, 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Streeck: „Shutdown ist wie Medikament – wir müssen auf Nebenwirkungen schauen“ - FOCUS Online.]

There is not enough discussion in the lockdown debate, says Hendrik Streeck - at least not with the right people. In an interview with FOCUS Online, the virologist explains why there is a lack of relevant voices and why we have to get used to the idea of living with Corona in the long term.

On Wednesday, the federal and state governments extended the current lockdown.

Virologist Hendrik Streeck, however, is skeptical of the lockdown, which has now lasted more than three months. "Of course it is important to push down the infection figures," he says in an interview with FOCUS Online.

"But it lacks the perspective and outlook for a long-term strategy. We have also done too little research in Germany. We don't know who gets infected where. Therefore, we currently have no other method but to hammer away."

To prevent this, Streeck advocates a more differentiated approach: "We need to understand who is infected where, so that we can finally start working with the scalpel as well," he demands.

No pediatricians, no psychologists - communicative discussion missing in shutdown debate

Another problem with the current lockdown measures from Streeck's point of view: They are primarily not scientifically based, they are political decisions. And there is not enough discussion about them, he said. "A democratic society can only find a way forward through discussion," the physician elaborates. "And this communicative discussion, which is so important, is not taking place at the moment, or too little, in my opinion."

Streeck would like to see more opinions, more debates. More critical voices, he says - and not just from virologists. Because if you look at the actual subject area of virology, the following is striking: Virologists can only answer most of the questions posed in government committees and consultations to a limited extent, if at all.

Streeck criticizes: "Where are the psychologists and sociologists? Where are the pediatricians who can say something well-founded about children? There is not much in a virological subject area. Nor is it in the subject area of physicists. On Chancellor Merkel's team of advisors, experts should be heard who deal with precisely these topics."

According to Streeck, a lockdown is like a kind of drug in a pandemic. "It has an effect, we see that now. But it also has side effects. And we have to pay attention to those as well. All the collateral damage, all the things that happen around this lockdown. The economic, social and also psychological consequences we have to consider."

Virologist Streeck: to push numbers to zero is "impossible".

That we will not eradicate Sars-CoV-2 and will have to learn to live with it has been clear to the virologist since the beginning of the pandemic. Streeck uses the term "perm" to describe what all coronaviruses do: they cause a rapid increase in the number of infections in the fall, and then a flattening out of the infection incidence again in early summer. And this happens year after year.

He therefore thinks little of the idea of using strict measures to push the virus down to a level of zero. In the course of the lockdown discussions, two groups have emerged among scientists, "Zero-Covid" and "No-Covid". Both use different strategies to pursue the goal of pushing infection rates close to or down to zero - which Streeck considers "illusory."

"There are countries that seem to be on the right track," he qualifies. "However, we are in the middle of the pandemic and cannot and should not compare ourselves with other countries for a few years. In the summer, Japan was the model. In the fall, Ireland; both countries have had high infection rates since then."

The virologist cites Australia as another example. There, an extremely harsh lockdown was imposed over the winter months. "For 112 days, people were only allowed outside for sports, errands and mandatory supplies." Since the beginning of the year, Australia has reported fewer than 25 new infections per day, but they are currently in the summer.

Streeck demands: Germany needs phased plans

However, Streeck says it is impossible to achieve the same in Germany. "In the summer, our numbers were also low, we only had an incidence of around 3 cases per 100,000 inhabitants - and yet we didn't completely control the virus."

For that to happen, the measures would have to go far beyond the current lockdown, the virologist explains. "The idea is right and worth discussing, but in the end we would have to close borders if all European countries don't play along. We would also need intra-German controls; we would have to have such a tight surveillance system that no more cases would slip through. In my eyes, that is simply not feasible."

That's why Streeck wants a more realistic perspective: a plan that clearly states when we can relax where. "We need phased plans similar to those from Schleswig-Holstein or Lower Saxony with a clear basis and orientation on fixed benchmarks. For the period up to spring, when the numbers drop again. And for the period after the summer, if the numbers should rise again."


Against the Wall

By Harald Neuber

[This article published on Feb 10, 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Gegen die Wand | Telepolis (]

Federal-state meeting highlights lack of concept in Corona crisis. But fundamental rights restrictions cannot be maintained endlessly. A commentary

Before Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) meets with the state premiers this afternoon - pandemic-compliant via video link - to discuss further measures to contain the Sars-CoV-2 corona virus, ordinary citizens have a déja-vù: once again, the consultations are taking place without any transparency, and once again, the results are basically clear in advance: the so-called hard lockdown will be extended beyond February 14.

But that alone is not the scandal. What is worthy of criticism is above all the lack of concept and the inability to get a grip on the pandemic in a way that does not allow the foreseeable social consequences to escalate immeasurably.

With the ongoing forced closure of retail, educational and cultural institutions, resentment against the constant "business as usual" is also growing. It is the lack of a concept that is fueling anger among the population.

In mid-January, just under half of Germany's citizens perceived the restrictions on basic rights and freedoms as a strong to very strong burden. It is to be expected that more and more citizens will join in this judgment.

Unclear and changing criteria

This is because the federal government, as well as the very limited circle of scientific advisors it has chosen, leaves people in the dark about the criteria for the introduction and continuation of the restrictions in both the public and private spheres. For a long time, it was said that the so-called incidence value alone - which, from a scientific point of view, is not one at all, but the sum of several unsystematically generated point prevalences - was the decisive criterion for the curtailments of rights (These reasons speak against the prolonged partial lockdown).

Now this value is falling, but it is said: the restrictions must be maintained because the number could rise again. And they say the Sars-CoV-2 mutations made an extension of the lockdown necessary. But what comes next, how long should this gamble with people's lives and futures continue? These key questions remain largely unanswered by decision-makers in government and government-related scientific institutions.

When it comes to assessing government policy in this crisis, the imbalance between restrictions on basic rights and repression on the one hand and a departure from the state's duty of care on the other cannot go unnoticed. For while government politicians constantly threaten sanctions when rules are broken, Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) has not only been unsuccessful for too long in supplying masks, he is also currently failing on a very central issue: the vaccination campaign.

Restrictions to compensate for lack of success

Just 1.2 percent of the population in this country has received the two required doses of vaccine to date, while 2.8 percent have been injected with the first dose. In the United Kingdom, the overall vaccination rate is 18 percent; in Israel, 40 percent of the population has received one dose, and 23 percent have already received both.

Increasingly, the German government will have to ask itself how these results of its pandemic policy relate to the ongoing restrictions on its rights. This was also recently pointed out by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "Restricting basic rights is no small matter, and it is the duty of politics to restore their exercise as soon as the infection situation permits." (Lockdown consequences: daycare centers and schools to open)

Steinmeier's subordinate clause is meant to exonerate the government, but it actually points out its responsibility: it is up to it to manage this crisis. The longer it fails to achieve this goal, the longer restrictions on basic rights and burdens on people will continue.

And finally, the question will be to what extent those in power draw lessons from this relatively mild pandemic and tackle structural reforms:

Has intensive medical care been (re)established nationwide?

Has the digitization of the agencies responsible for crisis management progressed?

Have wages and salaries in care been raised and training campaigns launched?

Can vulnerable groups - children and the elderly - hope for more and better targeted protection measures in the event of a future epidemic?

Many of these questions still have to be answered in the negative, almost a year after the outbreak of the infectious wave. In other words, the federal and state governments are not taking the long view. They are driving against the wall.

Harald Neuber is editor-in-chief of the online magazine Telepolis.

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