It is likely that the number of corona infections will rise again in the fall. People will then be indoors more often again and the cold weather will make it easier for viruses anyway. The German government's Corona Expert Council therefore advocates "continuing control measures adapted to the situation," according to a paper by the advisory body presented in Berlin on Wednesday. But what that means exactly depends on the further development of the pathogen - and what that looks like, no one can predict exactly.
"We explicitly do not want to paint dramatic pictures and create worry in the pandemic-weary population," said Heyo Kroemer, chairman of the expert council. Kroemer is also chairman of the board of Berlin's Charité hospital. "The pandemic is definitely not over. It makes sense to prepare for the fall."
The crucial variable in the equation is how the virus continues to change. "Nobody knows what will happen in the fall and winter," Kroemer said. Depending on how the virus evolves, the Expert Council scientists distinguish three scenarios in their statement. In the "base scenario," the pathogen continues to make people sick at the same rate as at present, in which case there will be a "clustered occurrence of infections and work absences" throughout the winter, they said. Isolated measures would be needed locally, the scientists fear.
If, on the other hand, a mutated virus were to make people sick less often, many protective measures would no longer be necessary - or, at best, to protect at-risk individuals. In these cases, there would also be work losses in the population.
In the "worst-case scenario," Corona evolves in such a way that it becomes not only more contagious, but also more dangerous. Then even fully vaccinated people could become severely ill. In this case, the healthcare system would be severely burdened, both in normal hospital wards and in intensive care units. Protective measures such as mandatory masks and distance rules could then only be "rolled back" again in the spring of next year. The Council of Experts rules out the possibility of the virus mutating to such an extent that the vaccination is no longer effective.
In the best-case scenario, Germany faces a "change of strategy" in Corona policy, according to the expert council. Instead of containing the pathogen, the focus could be on protecting vulnerable groups and mitigating severe illness, the report says. The reason is the increased immunity in the population, through vaccinations and through suffered infections alike.
The expert council nevertheless criticizes a "relevant vaccination gap" in the population. Therefore, depending on the course of the pandemic in the fall and winter, it is possible that the health care system could again be "significantly burdened" - also by the spread of other viruses that can trigger respiratory diseases. Vaccination is "extremely effective," said Leif-Erik Sander, an infectiologist at Charité University Hospital and, like Kroemer, a member of the expert panel. Without the vaccine protection, the burden of disease in the population would have been enormous. "At the same time, there is a reduced risk perception in the population," leading to "decreasing acceptance" of existing Corona measures, Sander said. This is an "understandable process," he said.
Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) wants to decide on possible Corona rules for the fall only when the eagerly awaited scientific assessment of the protective measures is available at the end of the month. The fact that the currently valid version of the Infection Protection Act expires at the end of September is not a randomly chosen date, Buschmann said Wednesday on ARD. It had been chosen "so that we have two session weeks of the German Bundestag after the summer break to go through a completely orderly, regular legislative process." Parliament will continue to meet regularly until the beginning of July and then will not convene again until early September. Between the end of June, when the report is available, and the end of the parliamentary summer recess, the government wants to "discuss together with the states what needs to be done," Buschmann said. He added that the federal government had also discussed this with the Conference of Minister Presidents. "Why some now think that this roadmap is no longer worth anything, I do not understand."
The social association VdK has called on the federal government to extend the mask requirement on public transport beyond September. In addition, citizen tests should continue to be offered free of charge. "There is a need for haste here, as they expire at the end of June," said President Verena Bentele in Berlin. In addition, she pleaded for restrictive testing concepts in nursing homes and facilities for people with disabilities to be retained at all costs. "This is the only way to ensure the safety of residents even in the current infection situation. The protection of all risk groups must be paramount."