‘Central voice of the pandemic’: Top German virologist given prize for coronavirus podcast

He is a controversial figure in Germany, especially among those critical of government coronavirus rules and lockdown measures.

'Central voice of the pandemic': Top German virologist given prize for coronavirus podcast
Christian Drosten in Hamburg on Thursday. Photo: DPA

However, Christian Drosten, a world-leading expert on coronaviruses, has undoubtedly become a star since the pandemic started earlier this  year. 

Now he's been honoured by the Deutschen Radiopreis (German Radio Awards) for his coronavirus podcast.

Judges said the scientist succeeded in “presenting complex scientific and epidemiological correlations in a way that is generally understandable” in his NDR podcast, the Coronavirus Update.

Born in 1972, Drosten is director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité Berlin. He is considered to be part of the team who discovered the SARS virus, which resulted in about 8,000 people worldwide becoming infected and about 800 deaths in 2002/03.

In 2003 Drosten developed a diagnostic test which he immediately made available to international scientists. In 2005 he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for this work.

This year the virologist and his team was the first worldwide to develop a test-kit for Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Quick intervention prevented 'up to 100,000' coronavirus deaths in Germany, says country's top virologist

Podcast listened to it more than 60 million times

The 48-year-old professor took the listeners with the podcast “on an exciting discovery journey to the virus”, according to judges who awarded him a special prize.

Drosten had explained the ins and outs of the virus and insisted on separation between politics and science. This made him the “central voice in the pandemic”, judges said.

The podcast is produced by NDR Info and began at the end of February. According to NDR, the more than 50 episodes have already been accessed by the public more than 60 million times.

The German Radio Awards, which were held in Hamburg on Thursday, also honour the country's best radio producers in 10 categories.

Why is Drosten controversial?

Since the start of the pandemic, Drosten has been advising Chancellor Angela Merkel's government on Covid-19 measures credited with bringing the outbreak under control by early May and keeping the death toll relatively low.

But his high profile and frequent media appearances have also made him a target for a noisy minority angry about social distancing rules they see as too restrictive and even authoritarian.

The debate came to a head at the end of May when Drosten got involved in a bitter public row with Bild newspaper, which attempted to cast doubt on his scientific research.

READ ALSO: Why Germany's coronavirus 'guru' is being targeted by lockdown critics

He has been called a “guru” and “godsend” for his expertise on the virus. And polls have shown strong public backing for the government measures which helped to lower the rate of infection and lead to reopening businesses.

But opposition to virus restrictions has been growing, with several demonstrations across German cities in recent weeks.

The virologist had warned in his podcast back in March that too much media attention would push scientists to withdraw from public life.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.