Corona in global retreat
By Kai Stoppel
[This article published on Feb 11, 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, "Überraschendes Phänomen": Corona weltweit auf dem Rückzug - n-tv.de (n-tv.de).]
More than 100 million people worldwide have been infected with Covid-19. But the number of new cases is recently declining.
Most recently, WHO reported more than 3 million new corona cases in one week - at the same time, a significant decrease from the previous week. And this is the fourth time in a row. What are the reasons for the worldwide retreat of the epidemic? ntv.de asked.
In Germany, the number of newly reported Corona cases continues to fall. But not only in this country - largely unnoticed by the public, case numbers are declining worldwide, and in some cases massively. The current situation report of the World Health Organization WHO confirms: For the fourth week in a row, the number of newly reported cases worldwide has fallen. The pandemic peaked at the beginning of January with almost five million new infections in one week. At the beginning of February, there were only around three million - almost 40 percent fewer. While there are still rising case numbers in many countries, on a global level the trend is "encouraging," the WHO report says.
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In absolute terms, case numbers are falling, especially in Europe and North and South America, most recently by nearly half a million new infections on a weekly basis. Most of the decline is in the U.S., where nearly 200,000 fewer cases were reported. But the phenomenon is not limited to these continents: Five of the six WHO regions recently recorded a decline in new Corona cases of more than 10 percent per week. The number of newly reported deaths also fell for the second week in a row, according to WHO. The latest figure of 88,000 newly reported deaths was down about 10 percent from the previous week.
But what are the reasons for this trend? Experts believe that the global vaccination campaign cannot yet have an impact on the number of cases - so far, only 0.24 percent of the world's population has full protection. Even in the populous United States, which vaccinates on a massive scale, the figure is just under 3 percent of all inhabitants.
Parallels with other pandemics
For epidemiologist Klaus Stöhr, who headed the WHO's Global Influenza Program for several years and was also Sars research coordinator there, the significant drop in cases worldwide is a "surprising phenomenon." "Even my colleagues at WHO have called me and asked what I think about it." But there is no clear explanation, Stöhr told ntv.de. "As with all natural events, there are also phenomena in a pandemic, the explanation of which can only be speculated."
But one thing stands out, he said: During the influenza pandemics in 1957 and 1968, similar things were observed: "Outbreak waves that have a length of ten to twelve weeks and then decline," Stöhr said. It is possible that this is related to restricted mobility during a pandemic, such as lockdowns, he said. The advanced immunization of the population could also play a role, i.e. if a large part of the population has already been infected once. Keyword: herd immunity.
According to Stöhr, it is precisely this effect of an incipient herd immunity that can probably already be observed in the USA. Until now, it has been assumed that 60 to 70 percent of the population must be immune in order to develop herd immunity against the wild type of Sars-CoV-2. At that point, a pathogen can no longer find enough new hosts, and the pandemic comes to a halt. But according to official data, only about 27 million people in the U.S. have been infected so far, and another 10 million have full vaccination protection - so out of a population of 330 million, only about 11 percent of the population. How does that fit together?
USA nevertheless on the verge of herd immunity?
Stöhr explains it this way: "Various selective serological studies from the U.S. and Europe suggest an unreported number by a factor of four to six." In the USA, 30 to 48 percent of the population may already have had Covid-19 and built up immunity to it, which could have a slowing effect on the incidence of infection. In any case, there are indications of this: the number of reported cases in the USA has fallen massively since the beginning of January - by around 60 percent. Experts consider the Corona measures in the United States to be less stringent than in many European countries.
In Germany, however, the situation is different, according to the epidemiologist: "In terms of population immunity, the U.S., but also countries like Sweden and Israel, are probably months ahead of us." The reason, he says, is the stricter measures taken in this country in response to the incidence of infection. Stöhr therefore warns against drawing false conclusions about the situation in Germany based on the declining numbers worldwide. The measures that have been in place so far, such as contact restrictions and the AHA+L rules, must continue to be taken into account in order to prevent a renewed flare-up of infections.
Despite the positive development, the pandemic is far from over, warns Stöhr. And in the summer, with the onset of winter in the southern hemisphere, the number of cases is expected to rise again. WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus also warned against a premature relaxation of the Corona measures in view of the recent positive global trend. In the past, he said, many countries had responded to a decline in cases by easing up, and people had become careless. "The virus came back like a forest fire that found new fuel." Positive trends could easily reverse, and "hard-won gains can be lost."
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The newly emerged variants of Sars-CoV-2, which are considered much more contagious, are also cause for concern in many places. In the United States, for example, variant B.1.1.7, first discovered in the United Kingdom, is spreading rapidly, according to one study. By March, it could be the dominant version of the coronavirus there. In Germany, about six percent of cases are due to this variant, according to the Robert Koch Institute. An extension of the lockdown in this country is often justified by the dangerous nature of the mutations.
The WHO also observes a "geographical expansion" of the variants. B.1.1.7, for example, has now been detected in 86 countries. The 501Y.V2 variant, first discovered in South Africa, has already appeared in 44 countries, and the P.1 variant from Brazil in 15. WHO chief Tedros, however, is convinced that the significant drop in case numbers is evidence that "proven public health measures" are working. "Even with the new variants circulating, we can bring this pandemic under control," Tedros said. In the United Kingdom, for example, B.1.1.7 already accounted for about 90 percent of all new cases at the end of January - yet even there, case numbers have recently been declining significantly.
End the shortage economy!
The pandemic has pushed the chronically underfunded education system to the limits of its capacity. Enough money for education must be available, however, or our society risks drifting even further apart.
By Mechthild Schrooten, Professor of Economics, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
[This article published on 2/1/2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, Mangelwirtschaft beenden!: GEW - Die Bildungsgewerkschaft, gew.de.]
Covid-19 is causing great suffering in many areas of life. The pandemic has pushed the chronically underfunded education system to its limits. Years of shortages are currently causing high costs. However, these crisis costs hardly fall on the shoulders of those politically responsible. The immense direct and indirect costs are currently being borne by committed employees, pupils, children, students and parents.
It is becoming increasingly clear that children want school and daycare! Parents want school and daycare! Students want university! Rarely have schools and education been held in such high esteem by society as a whole. Employees in the education sector are currently outgrowing themselves in many cases, developing new formats and forms of communication. All of this is a wonderful starting point for a vigorous education offensive.
Germany has some catching up to do
But an education offensive means more than just half-hearted digitization of existing processes. It presupposes that the education sector, which is systemically important in every respect, is well financed in the long term. An international comparison shows that Germany has a lot of catching up to do. In the Federal Republic, education spending is systematically below the average in the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). For example, spending on primary to tertiary education reached just 4.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2017; the OECD average was 4.9 percent. Measured in euros, the difference from the average is roughly equivalent to 23 billion euros. This sum is substantial; this funding is lacking every year.
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Commitment of stakeholders
The shortage economy in the German education sector has been known for a long time. Dilapidated school buildings symbolize policy failures. During the pandemic, chronic underfunding created a massive additional burden. Investment and innovation backlogs do not go well with tough hygiene standards. It is true that the public sector provided short-term funding for education due to the pandemic. But making up in a time of disaster what has been neglected for years is a special challenge.
In fact, in pandemic times, the education sector masters the most complex challenges in the shortest possible time. When it manages to do so, however, it is hardly due to wise policy decisions. Rather, the extraordinary commitment of those involved keeps the education infrastructure running. "Volunteers in full-time positions" and improvisation may help in the short term, but they are no substitute for a viable concept.
A battle for distribution has broken out
While most people are still busy dealing with the pandemic in their everyday lives, a distribution battle over future government financing has long since broken out at the political level. The current credit financing of extraordinary spending programs will certainly not be able to be maintained in the long term. The education sector must not be left again at the mercy of the cash situation of municipalities and federal states. Education federalism is facing a test.
The education sector provides much more than knowledge. In addition to opportunities, care and education, the key words are above all individual support and emotional appeal - this and much more is provided in the context of education. There must be enough money for education, otherwise our society risks drifting even further apart. At its core, education has far-reaching consequences in terms of distribution policy. Parents, children, pupils, students and those working in the education sector deserve to see the economy of scarcity become a thing of the past.