Mr. Stöhr, the SPD-led countries wanted you to be part of the preparations for the Corona summit in the Chancellery – apparently not the Chancellor. Is your opinion not valued there?
There can be various reasons for this. In general, all colleagues are worried about how best to deal with the current dire effects of the pandemic.
It is right to look for inter-sectoral and inter-institutional solutions for such a complex biological process. This includes virologists and epidemiologists, population biologists, but also sociologists, psychologists and communication scientists and of course health economists. From my perspective, those currently belong in the deliberations.
Contrary to the opinion of many advisors to the Chancellor, you are critical of a tightening of the lockdown. What do you suggest?
In general, this is not true: People at risk must be better protected, kindergartens and elementary schools can open with hygiene concepts. All in all, the events have settled at a very high level. The incidences even decrease slightly. Not the death rate, however, especially from old people’s and nursing homes. That is worrying.
If you look at the facts and figures, you need to differentiate between the measures: better protection for the people at risk, this is not about relaxation but better implementation of hygiene concepts. However, I do not understand how the high number of cases and deaths among the elderly can be turned around by further closing schools and kindergartens. Also not the risk that the children would infect their grandparents after school. Parents who leave their children with their grandparents without hesitation have probably been absent for the last 10 months.
But there are also 27 million people at risk in Germany.
In addition to the AHA rules and the contact restrictions due to business closings, home office and visiting restrictions, better concepts must also be found to strengthen personal responsibility.
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The great differences in incidence between federal states cannot be explained by climate or population density. Restrictive measures can change behavior; but not the attitude; you have to convince your head for that.
And how should one deal with the great differences between the federal states and districts?
Differentiated. The stringency of the measures must adapt to the situation and be regionally / locally loosened or tightened. Lockdown with the watering can doesn’t help. We need local measures, not national ones.
The Chancellor and the country leaders have decided that the schools will remain closed. In addition, the FFP2 mask requirement in public transport and more home office. What do you make of it?
FFP2 masks can make a difference: in selected risk situations and groups such as the elderly and nursing homes or visiting rooms in medical practices In contrast to scarves and self-made masks that should disappear. When the measures escalate, curfews come for me before daycare centers and schools close. They are a possible penultimate means to reduce the incidence of illness as a last resort in crisis situations.
Fortunately, we’re not at the limit at the moment. The intensive care units are only overcrowded at certain points, and the health system does not reach its limits in terms of breadth. We can deal with the current incidences.
Nationwide we currently have an incidence of 130. How many cases can we deal with?
We can, as the last few months have shown, allow a good middle ground with incidences of 130 to 160, maybe even 180. A way in which we limit the damage to health as much as possible, do not put too much strain on free democratic rights, give people certain leeway and where the economy is still going reasonably well.
That could be an ambitious, realistic and sustainable goal for containing the pandemic. Of course, this includes the special protection of risk groups. The wedding of SARS-CoV-2 will last until the end of winter. Until then, the contacts must be reduced; We don’t want to slip into a situation like in England or Ireland before Christmas. On the other hand, it is also not realistic to reach an incidence against or even below 50 …
The declared aim of the federal government …
I support the desire to have as low an incidence as possible. But we have to set realistic goals and take people with us. We saw it in Germany in October that the values rose and our health authorities could not prevent it. Permanent incidences below 50 are unrealistic.
I say this from my experience with respiratory infectious diseases over the past few decades, but above all because of the experience of our neighboring countries. Austria, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and all other countries except Ireland did not make it. Even if I’m wrong, I don’t see how we can keep the incidence then. You see that in Ireland, where they’ve been able to lower the incidence. Then you loosened up and the pubs opened and now they have an incidence of 700.
The British corona mutation B117 is also rampant there.
The Irish colleagues conclude that the variant is not the reason for the explosive increase; these were the changes in people’s behavior after the drastic lockdown. In fact, the variant appeared shortly before the breakout peak was reached. The most important observation is that the variant does not seem to make control much more difficult.
In Ireland, cases are now rapidly decreasing, although the percentage of the variant in the isolates is increasing. That actually speaks against a higher infectiousness relevant for the control. In England, too, the incidence is now falling sharply. However, it remains important to monitor what is happening virologically, also in Germany.
When can we open pubs, shops and concert halls again in Germany?
In winter you always have to resist the high infection pressure – in summer it’s something completely different. If we keep our distance, put on masks and follow hygiene rules, with an incidence corridor of 130-160 and better protection of the risk groups, we could open the daycare centers across the board, including the primary schools, depending on the regional location.
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Local decisions also have to be made about opening shops while maintaining hygiene concepts; according to the regional incidence situation and the projection of the events in the hospitals. I would keep restaurants closed because of the experiences in other countries and large events are taboo at least until the beginning of summer.
There are critics who accuse you that, as a former employee of the vaccine manufacturer Novartis, you may have an interest in it if the high number of infections persists.
That’s absurd. Words fail me! I enjoyed working at Novartis and learned a lot; I don’t have any more shares. I left the company three years ago. I also do not advise any company that has anything to do with drugs or vaccines.
I see my résumé positively: I studied for five years, worked on my doctorate for two years, worked for four years in national research institutions, 15 years at WHO and eleven years in industry. I took something with me for my development everywhere – but certainly no bias towards scientific data.