Karl Lauterbach: These numbers really matter in the pandemic

Karl Lauterbach

The federal and state governments decided on additional measures on Wednesday evening: in addition to a nationwide curfew from 11 p.m., there is now an expanded mask requirement, new participant limits at events and private celebrations and stricter contact regulations in the corona risk areas. In some cases, these should now apply from an incidence of 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week instead of the previous 50.

In an interview with, SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach explains where the limit values ​​come from and which factors, from his point of view, are important for determining measures. You wrote on Twitter that the decisions of the Chancellor and the 16 country leaders describe the bare minimum of what is needed now. What would you have wished for?

Karl Lauterbach: The same measures would have been more helpful if we had decided them two weeks ago. The problem is not the measures themselves, but that they come very late and will be difficult to control. I would not have wished for stricter measures – except perhaps that these upper limits for celebrations would not have been made as recommendations, but as hard upper limits. And I would have thought it right to agree on a fine of 250 euros for mask refusers. On the whole, however, the measures are correct. The question is whether they will work in time. We’ll have to see that.

All measures are based on the incidence value of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week, some now even from 35. Where do these values ​​actually come from – and do they make sense?

Lauterbach: This is an orientation value that was introduced to estimate how many cases can be traced without overloading the health authorities in the first step with the follow-up of the cases and in the second step the capacity in the intensive care units. It was created to see: What would it mean if this 50 value were exceeded in many counties at the same time? The moment that happens, the system would have exceeded its capacity. Then we would have completely lost control of the pandemic in the country. I think it is appropriate, that is a useful value.

In addition to this, there are numerous other factors that have played or are still playing a role in the course of the pandemic. Which are still central with regard to the measures?

Lauterbach: I believe: the only thing that is really relevant for pandemic control is the number of people infected – nothing else. Maybe the age distribution, but that’s secondary. The number of people infected is all that matters. I often talked to Chancellor Helge Braun about it, and luckily that has now also prevailed. But that you use other numbers, the number of intensive care beds and so on, that is complete nonsense. Because the patients I see in the intensive care units today were infected four weeks ago.

You just mentioned the age distribution. To what extent is you important, but only secondary?

Lauterbach: Two things are important for mortality in the pandemic: how many infected people there are in the country and how old the population is. Since the average age of the population can only change over decades due to the birth rate, the only factor that we can really influence at the moment is the number of infected people. And since Europe is an “old” continent, unfortunately a lot of people will die if we have a lot of infected people. I hope we can still manage to change course through the measures.

That’s what everyone is hoping for at the moment – many are also looking a little worried towards Christmas in view of measures such as the travel restrictions after the autumn holidays.

Lauterbach: I don’t think it’s appropriate that we always think from festival to festival, according to the motto: How will the autumn holidays be, how will Christmas be? For me the crucial question is: what happens between the festivities? Are we in control? How we celebrate Christmas is frankly not an issue for me at the moment. What matters is how we get along by then.

What trends does Karl Lauterbach see for the future? He reveals that at the Trends Festival – and you can experience him live there.


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