Berlin / Bremen (dpa) – Despite lockdown measures that have been in place for more than two months, the number of corona cases remains high. Frighteningly high.
Are the restrictions not going far enough or are too many people not following the rules? Where exactly are those affected infected? Looking for answers is like poking around in the fog.
There is simply a lack of data for substantiated statements. In many cases, it is not known where infected people are infected, Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen told the German news agency. “On the one hand we have fewer contacts, on the other we seem to know little about where it could have been.”
There are few major outbreaks. “One cannot really speak of sources of infection, but rather of individual candles.” The status reports of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) refer to an often diffuse spread of Sars-CoV-2 infections among the population, “without the infection chains being clearly traceable”. Accumulations relate to retirement and nursing homes, private households and the professional environment. Much smaller outbreaks, for example in clinics, also contribute to the high incidence.
Zeeb is also unclear how widespread the likely more contagious coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 is already widespread in Germany. The proportion of samples examined is far too low to draw conclusions. The fact that the decline in the number of new infections is progressing very slowly may indicate that the virus has changed in some places.
The question of whether the relaxation of contact restrictions over Christmas has kept numbers at a high level is also difficult to answer. There was less testing over the holidays, Zeeb said. Therefore, current figures should be assessed with caution. “I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.” On the bright side, however, at least there was no rapid increase after the family celebrations.
In contrast to the lockdown in the spring, the epidemiologist mentions another factor that many large farms are still open. “This means that a lot of people have to be on the road.” At the same time, he warned against making it too easy for yourself in looking for causes and reasoning – according to the motto: people are still together in companies and offices, so that’s it.
But cooperation does play a role in any case. Virologist Melanie Brinkmann of the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig said Sunday evening in the ARD program “Anne Will” that the workplace is an area where even more contacts can be limited. Far fewer people currently work from home than in the spring.
It is important to prevent people from meeting at work and perhaps going out to dinner or taking off their masks in the break room. “These are measures that are very important now,” said Brinkmann. “We really have to do it again,” protested the virologist. “And the harder and faster we can interrupt virus transfers, the better.”
Kai Nagel, head of the traffic system planning and traffic telematics department at TU Berlin, told the Tagesspiegel that people practically anticipated the closure in the spring and cut their outdoor activities by 40 percent, even before the government ordered it. By the end of the year it was the other way around: “The measures came into effect from mid-December and before that there was a hectic pace.”
Important factors in controlling the pandemic, he says, are wearing mouth and nose protection and less contact. “If the schoolchildren were to wear effective masks and only come to school every other day, their proportion of infections would be so low that it would no longer play a role,” Nagel is convinced. On the other hand, measures such as Plexiglass walls in the workplace are probably not very effective due to the spread of corona via aerosols. “That’s why masks should be worn as soon as more than one person is in the room.”
Authorities in particular find it difficult to work from home. As the Deutsche Beamtenbund dbb found in a survey, 67 percent of workers at the federal level were able to permanently switch to the home office, at the state level only 55, and at the municipal level only 37 percent. The “basic evil” was poor technical equipment, a spokesman said. Some managers also wanted to see what their employees were doing on site. And in some cases, such as tax matters, home office is impossible due to data security.
General: Stop more home office and potentially large parts of the economy in the next step? Examples such as China, where the government is much more rigorous, show that strict measures help significantly reduce the spread of the virus. Whether you want this with all the consequences that entails must be discussed on a case-by-case basis, says Zeeb.
However, it is clear that the basis for political decisions needs to be improved. “We cannot properly justify our decisions based on data,” says the researcher. “We don’t even know afterwards what was decisive.” Because the pandemic will last for months, it is important to determine together what data you want to collect and how it can be intelligently interpreted. According to Zeeb, this has been much too patchy and inconsistent until now. “On the positive side: there is still too much diversity in the system.”