Corona lockdown: a researcher explains what is important now

REUTERS / Kai Pfaffenbach

Covid-19 is an insidious disease. Because many infected people carry the coronavirus that causes the disease without noticing symptoms or only weak signs in themselves. But if the course is severe, the consequences are often dramatic: those affected have the feeling of suffocation, have to be ventilated and sometimes lie in the intensive care unit for weeks, where they have to be monitored with a lot of staff. The older an infected person is, the greater the risk of a severe course of Covid-19.

The unnoticed spread is probably one reason why the virus spread around the world so quickly – and why Covid-19 suddenly filled the hospitals in many places such as northern Italy, Heinsberg or in Tiefenbach in Bavaria. Young mobile people got infected while skiing on business trips or on vacation and spread it unnoticed in their hometown. For example, if the virus reached the elderly through a large party, hospital admissions rose after a few days and, with some delay, deaths rose rapidly. Due to the local family and population structure and the early interruption of the first wave, there were fewer deaths in Germany in spring compared to other countries.

The increasing number of new infections among the over-60s also led to an increase in deaths

But the pattern that was observed in the spring was repeated in the fall. In the summer and in September, it was mainly younger people under 60 who were infected with the corona virus. Even if the number of new infections rose to around 2,500 a day during this time, it had hardly any effect on the hospitals, since younger people also, but less often, become seriously ill with Covid-19. In addition, it remained uncertain how much the higher number of tests compared to the spring could possibly distort the picture.

In October, not only the number of new infections rose sharply to more than 15,000 per day, but also the proportion among the over-60s. More outbreaks are also being reported in old people’s and nursing homes. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute have drawn attention to this connection.

At the end of October, Viola Priesemann, head of a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, and her team used a model-based analysis to calculate that the number of deaths could double in the first two weeks of November – to 500 to 800 or more per week . In their model calculations, the scientists assumed that the development of deaths followed the reported new infections with a delay of 14 days. Unfortunately, the researchers were right: Between November 1 and 13, the Robert Koch Institute reported 1,748 new deaths related to Covid-19. And due to the recent infection, they are unlikely to decrease in the next two weeks.

“The health authorities have to be faster than the virus”

But shouldn’t the risk groups now be better warned and protected than they were in the spring? According to Priesemann, the main reason for the increased number of new infections in people over 60 is that the health authorities can no longer consistently pursue and isolate the contact persons of infected people because they are overloaded.

“The health authorities have to be faster than the virus in order to be able to stop chains of infection,” said Priesemann in an online press conference in which also took part. If the tipping point in the infection process is exceeded, it is more difficult to control the epidemic, the number of unreported cases increases. “It is important to keep the number of unreported cases low. Those who do not know that they are infected do not change their behavior, ”emphasized Priesemann.

In addition, there is a danger from exhausted test capacities. “We currently have around 1.5 million PCR tests per week in Germany. They are used up quickly, ”explained the researcher. “With around 20,000 new infections per day, that makes around 140,000 new infections per week. 140,000 out of 1.5 million tests is a positive rate of about 10 percent. So it is completely logical and clear that you can no longer test all the people you would actually like to test. ”

Current examples show the effectiveness of lockdowns

Germany now has a good test and contact tracking system. This is probably one of the reasons why the second wave started comparatively late in this country. Priesemann assumes that the number of unreported cases was very low in summer and late summer. But it turned out that border regions in particular were the first to develop high case numbers. “From a theoretical point of view, an earlier lockdown would have been correct. But in mid-September it would probably not have been politically communicable, ”said Priesemann.

In order for the number of cases to drop again, the R value must be brought well below 1. It shows how many more people infected by an infected person. The higher it is, the faster the virus will spread.

Countries like Australia or Israel would have achieved this through a tough lockdown in their second wave. “The Berchtesgadener Land is definitely an example where you can see that the number of cases can go down again relatively quickly,” said the scientist, referring to the first community in Germany that went into lockdown in autumn. “The be-all and end-all: it depends on reducing contacts. Every country has to find its own way. “

Control can only be regained through lower case numbers. In addition, they also protect the risk groups, as there are fewer asymptomatic carriers. The path of herd immunity, as some advocate it, Priesemann can not win much. Apart from the risks that come with it, this also takes far too long. “The second wave clearly indicates that we do not yet have great immunity,” said the researcher.

In Germany, the current measures could not yet be identified due to the delayed effects. However, growth has slowed. The hope is to get the pandemic under control again quickly: “We are two weeks away from the lockdown of low case numbers – if the lockdown is effective.”


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