We are allowed to add another phrase to our pandemic vocabulary: Ban on accommodation. People who come from risk areas or hotspots are no longer allowed to stay in hotels or pensions in other federal states without a negative test – in addition to distance requirements, mask requirements and contact blocks, this is the new restriction in the fight against a second lockdown. (And I’m writing this from Berlin, the new hotspot No. 1 – highly infectious, but sexy.)
For the hotels and guest houses, after a dead quiet spring and a half-saved summer, dark days and weeks are now beginning. A fear and struggle between the eternal corona dilemma: protection of life vs. Protection of existence.
Three questions always resonate: Are the restrictions appropriate or excessive? Will there be a nationwide lockdown? And is the situation with the last 4,500 infected people per day comparable to the days in spring when there were similarly high numbers?
To start from the back: The numbers are not comparable, but that does not mean that they are not worrying. They are not comparable, because we record many more infected people with 1.1 million tests per week – until July we were below 500,000. (However, there should still be an unreported number of undiscovered infected people.)
We have to look at all the numbers
The spread is accelerating, however. Since the beginning of October all over Europe, and in Germany especially in terms of area, the famous R-factor is above one. Since the opening, we in Germany have mainly had to struggle with regional outbreaks, for example in a slaughterhouse or at a private party. That has changed. It is no longer just the famous “travelers returning home”. In large cities in particular, it is becoming less and less possible to trace contacts.
The positive rate, i.e. the proportion of positive tests among all samples, is lower today than in spring, but it is rising continuously again and is now 1.6 percent, the highest value since mid-June. And older people are already becoming infected, while the number of people receiving intensive care is increasing. At almost 500, it is still below the values of the first wave (and 8500 intensive care beds are empty).
As you can see, numerical exegesis can be carried on like this, and even the top virologists come to different interpretations. RKI President Lothar Wieler is “very worried” and expects 10,000 cases per day soon. The Bonn virologist Hendrik Streeck weighs it down and says: “20,000 new infections per day, that sounds like an apocalypse at first, but basically that shouldn’t scare us, because a mild course or a course without symptoms does not contribute so much to the infection process.” You have to find a “mindful normality”. Which means: We must not stare at one number (that of new infections) alone, we have to look at all the numbers.
Crisis management according to the type of state financial equalization
Regarding the second question: A nationwide lockdown is currently unlikely because Germany did not have a lockdown in the first wave either – but a shutdown: a shutdown of public life (schools, shops, restaurants), but no exit restrictions as in Spain, Italy or France. Now the rule is: The offices will empty again, but even more quietly than in March. The factories will continue to run, exports will continue to flow abroad – a slump like the one in spring is not to be expected, even if there has always been a question mark behind the fragile recovery since May. The “contact-intensive” parts of the service sector (which represent eight percent of economic output) now have to suffer again.
So there will be more or less coordinated countermeasures and restrictions – with the usual federal-state hiccups that often make us despair. But a central state is not a solution either (see France). Crisis management runs like negotiations on the financial equalization of the federal states, and we did very well with it. Especially since we now know more about the virus and can treat it better. Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn put it in a nutshell: “We don’t have any breakouts at the hairdresser’s.” So we don’t have to close hairdressers again.
That brings us to the last question: appropriateness. It is part of this crisis that all crisis managers and experts always look in a rear-view mirror and a blind mirror – we don’t have all the data and we get it with a time delay. The ban on accommodation, for example, may appear excessive in a few weeks – but you can only judge it with the knowledge from this future. This leads to the prevention paradox: If you strengthen a wobbly bridge and everyone comes across safely, people will say: It wasn’t necessary to strengthen it. So when the number of cases falls again, some will say: The panic and the measures before the autumn break were exaggerated (the typical retrospective mistake).
Our politicians make the most complicated decisions between blind spots and hot spots. You will keep making mistakes. We will keep learning. But when I look at the super patient No. 1 with the recovery turbo, who is now promising his miracle cocktail to millions of Americans – a bizarre dance of death performed by Donald Trump – well, I’m grateful again that our problems are different, for example when Thuringia pulls out of the federal states’ ban on accommodation.
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