High corona numbers despite lockdown: psychology of infection

Jason Tschepljakow / picture alliance

With regard to the corona incidence, there is currently a considerable discrepancy between what should be and what is. Less than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week – this was the request of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina for January about a month ago. In a statement from December 8th, the researchers declared this value to be achievable “if the measures are strictly tightened from December 14th.”

The hard lockdown followed promptly on December 16. It is still valid today. Only the number of new infections – they have not decreased significantly since then, as far as this can be foreseen by the delay in reporting data over the holidays and the turn of the year. On the contrary. As of January 12, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recorded an average of 164.5 infected people per 100,000 inhabitants across Germany in the past seven days. That is far from the 50 you wanted to reach.

The question arises as to how it can be that despite closed retail stores, despite extensive contact and even radius of movement restrictions, despite daycare and school closings, the virus continues to spread in Germany. Where do people get infected when so many alleged sources of infection no longer exist?

Good intentions, badly implemented

In many cases, one actually does not know where those affected are infected, says Hajo Zeeb from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen. “On the one hand, we have fewer contacts, but on the other hand, we seem to know little about where it might have been.” There are few major outbreaks. “One cannot really speak of sources of infection, rather of individual candles.”

However, if you consult the COSMO study by the University of Erfurt, you come across another risk factor: the people themselves – and their subjective perception of risks and dangers. In the most recent two rounds of the study from 22./23. and 29./30. December around 1,000 people from Germany were asked about their behavior in relation to Corona. In an interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, the head of the study and psychologist Cornelia Betsch sums up what came out of it: “Many people have good intentions, but they don’t follow them in practice.”

What Betsch means by this: Even people who have restricted the number of their contacts due to the virus take their good views ad absurdum as soon as they meet people who are close to them. Then they hug the other person, get close – and are much more likely to infect themselves or the other person. Put simply: When we meet our best friend, we think we are safe in the face of the person we trust. Although this friend could just as easily be a carrier of the coronavirus as any stranger – and we ourselves could just as easily infect her.

Familiar people let our caution wane

This manifests itself in figures as follows: 40 percent of those surveyed in the COSMO study stated that they had participated in a private meeting with more than five people in closed rooms at least once in the two weeks before December 29th. Almost a fifth attended such a meeting in a professional context during the same period. At Christmas, only around half of the respondents did not meet any or only one other household. And about a fifth of the participants even stated that they met three or more households over Christmas.

Being with people with whom we feel strongly connected makes us careless. Earlier studies have shown that, according to a summary of the study. “And this is also evident at Christmas; higher perceived social solidarity led to wearing less mask, less distance, less risk perception ”, it continues. And: “This also resulted in a slightly lower intention to reduce contacts in the days after Christmas.”

“Hit it right”

Of course, there are also other sources of infection, such as offices. For example, virologist Melanie Brinkmann from the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig said on Sunday evening in the ARD talk show “Anne Will” that the workplace is an area where even more contacts could be restricted. There are currently far fewer people working from home than in the spring.

It is important to prevent people from meeting at work and maybe going out to dinner or taking off their masks in the break room. These are measures that are very, very important now, ”said Brinkmann. “We really have to hit it hard again. And the harder and faster we can interrupt virus transmissions now, the better. “

Better data basis needed

In fact, the demands for a home office requirement that employers must adhere to are getting louder and louder. Examples such as China, where the government is taking much more rigorous action, show that strict measures help to significantly reduce the spread of the virus. Whether you want that with all the associated consequences must be discussed in each individual case, says Hajo Zeeb from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology.

It is clear that the basis for political decisions needs to be improved. “We cannot justify our decisions on the basis of data,” says the epidemiologist. “We don’t even know afterwards what was decisive.” Because the pandemic will continue for months, it is important to jointly tie down what data you want to collect and how it can be intelligently interpreted. So far this has been far too patchy and inconsistent.

with dpa


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