For Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and his opponent Marco Buschmann (FDP), it should be the document of the decision: what have the previous corona measures achieved and what does that mean for the “corona toolbox” for the third fall of the pandemic?
The 165-page paper by the government-commissioned council of experts makes clear doubts about the pandemic policy of the federal and state governments.
Right at the beginning is the main criticism, which also contributed to the fact that the Charité virologist Christian Drosten left the project:
“The evaluation commission’s fulfillment of its mandate and claim was made considerably more difficult by the fact that it was only asked to evaluate the measures based on the Infection Protection Act (IFSG) afterwards,” criticized at the outset.
Furthermore, there is no adequate and stringent accompanying data collection, which would have been necessary to enable the evaluation of individual measures. “It should also be noted that the evaluation commission was neither staffed for a comprehensive evaluation of this issue nor had a sufficiently long evaluation period available.”
The head of the Berlin Charité, Heyo Kroemer, and Jutta Allmendinger, the head of the Berlin Science Center for Social Research, were involved in the paper. In addition, the virologist Hendrik Streeck, who is well known to the public, and the epidemiologist Klaus Stöhr were also included.
When presenting their findings, the experts emphasized that the report was not a general settlement with the Corona policy, but should serve to enable decision-makers to make even more informed decisions in the future.
The traffic light had hoped that the report would solve their dispute about future corona measures. The rolling summer wave and concerns about further corona variants in autumn raise the question of what should follow the Infection Protection Act, which expires on September 23rd. The federal states would like to have a follow-up regulation that gives them more tools again, at the moment they can no longer even impose mask requirements indoors.
The FDP in particular has therefore insisted on the evaluation of the measures taken so far, but the report does not provide the hoped-for clarity. It’s more of a “both-and”. In summary, he agrees with the decisions of Pandemic Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). The earlier measures are taken, the better, this applies in particular to short but early lockdowns.
The report at least gives clear indications of what a new IFSG could look like – and what mistakes should be avoided. The 18 men and women criticize that too little research has been carried out in Germany and that the corona policy has been poorly communicated, especially since it was a matter of massive encroachments on fundamental rights. An overview of the most important results – and what that can mean for the next Corona autumn.
“The combination of epidemiological evidence and animal experimental confirmation allows the conclusion that wearing masks can be an effective tool in pandemic control,” the report emphasizes. However, an ill-fitting and not tight-fitting mask has a reduced or no effect.
“The effectiveness therefore depends on the wearer,” is the unsurprising finding. Everyday masks are definitely less safe than medical and FFP2 masks. Since there is hardly any risk of infection outdoors, a mask requirement should in future be restricted to indoor areas and places with a higher risk of infection.
A general recommendation to wear FFP2 masks cannot be derived from the data so far, but it is particularly recommended for clinics, homes and other medical facilities.
For politicians, this means that masks and a mask requirement as an option could very well be part of the “tool box” again in autumn; Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) insists on this, as do the federal states.
The report remains vague on the issue of lockdowns, but makes clear that they can make a difference at the very beginning of a pandemic.
“Based on the biological and physical plausibility, there is no doubt that reducing close physical contact in general leads to a reduction in infections,” the report says.
Especially at the beginning of a pandemic, it makes sense to reduce transmission in the population as much as possible in order to adjust the health system to the forthcoming burden of illness and, if possible, to limit the outbreak locally.
But the longer a lockdown lasts and the fewer people are willing to support the measure, the smaller the effect and the more serious the unintended consequences.
The sense of 2G/3G rules, which linked attending events to vaccination or testing during the pandemic, is only seen to a limited extent. According to the experts, the effectiveness of these measures is particularly high in the first few weeks after the booster vaccination or recovery. “However, protection against infection decreases significantly over time.” The clear consequence of these experiences, also with a view to next autumn: the previous privileges of vaccinated people are being called into question.
The experts recommend: If access restrictions are necessary due to the high number of infections, testing is recommended regardless of the vaccination status. However, it must be researched how well containment with tests can work in view of the very easily transferrable Omicron variant.
The experts were unable to make a precise statement about the effect of school closures. “Despite biological plausibility and numerous studies, the exact effect of school closures on curbing the spread of the coronavirus remains open,” they write in their report. Younger children are infected less frequently and carry the virus less often into their families. With new virus variants, however, the effect is less pronounced.
The side effects of school closures have been better researched. Screen time increased, children gained weight. “Many studies have shown that during school closures, the proportion of children with mental health problems increased,” the experts write. In addition, the pandemic had a negative impact on the learning duration, learning ability and learning success of schoolchildren, especially in socially disadvantaged population groups.
The scientists emphasize that better digitization of infection detection with nationwide uniform systems is essential in the future. The experts make it clear that canceled operations, delayed diagnoses and the threat of loneliness in lockdown can have dangerous consequences.
A focus of criticism are research gaps in Germany. For example, “coordinated accompanying research was largely omitted in Germany during the corona pandemic,” the experts write.
There was a lack of concepts to “make the upcoming decisions in the pandemic on the basis of better data and analyzes based on them”. The health insurance companies offered “their enormous databases” for such purposes.
Strict federalism and the extensive General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are also cited as difficult and ultimately research-inhibiting: “Federalism and the resulting different state data protection laws and state hospital laws as well as different interpretations of the GDPR make data management and research in Germany very difficult.”
The federal states should feel encouraged in their insistence on expanding the toolbox, they want the mask requirement indoors and 2G/3G rules as an option again, and even in the FDP some MPs say that it is the older fellow citizens who are the FDP’s fight against would not have appreciated the measures because the majority of the “caution team” continued to dominate here.
But the scientists also make it clear that there is a “considerable need for reform” for the controversial IfSG as the legal basis for fighting the pandemic. For example, the “determination of the epidemic situation of national importance” represents a legally questionable construction. The shifting of key decision-making powers to the executive that was carried out in this way is overwhelmingly considered to be unconstitutional.
Therefore, in the future, the intervention thresholds would have to be defined specifically, instead of nationwide, and the specification through statutory ordinances and general decrees would have to be left to the federal states. Conversely, this also means that the traffic light coalition, under pressure from the FDP, could no longer dictate to the states that they are practically not allowed to enact any measures at all.
In any case, Federal Minister of Justice Buschmann has now promised a speedy agreement in the government on corona protection instruments for the autumn. He is very confident that a good proposal can be made in the coalition during July, he said. Immediately after the evaluation report was presented, there was a great deal of agreement on several points. According to the report, the indoor mask has a very good cost-benefit ratio. You will therefore of course have a role in the protection concept for the winter.