Sensible or reckless? What Germans think about the government's new Covid strategy
The German government has decided that the strain on hospitals will be the central factor in forming its decisions on future pandemic measures. This change in direction has led to split reactions among health professionals and politicians.
The German government announced this week that it is going to make a fundamental shift in how it evaluates the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.
In future the critical value will no longer be the number of infections per 100,000 people within a seven day period (7-day incidence) but the number of people whose symptoms are severe enough to land them in hospital.
"The 7-day incidence of 50 has served its purpose," said Health Minister Jens Spahn on Monday, explaining that the level of 50 cases per 100,000 people, which had perviously been the bar over which severe restrictions were imposed, would be removed from the disease protection law.
Expert opinion on the move has been split. While some have welcomed it as a necessary adjustment in recognition of the advanced vaccine rollout, other have said that it risks losing control of the level of infection.
Ulrike Protzer, professor for virology at Munich Technical University, said that the move away from a sole gaze at the incidence was "very sensible". She said that "the incidence says nothing about how many really relevant, more dangerous infections we have."
"Everyone has now had the opportunity to protect themselves through vaccination, with the exception of children under the age of 12," Protzer said. "At a certain point, we need to consider how much society invests in protecting those who do not want to protect themselves."
Klaus Reinhardt, head of the German Medical Association, also said that vaccinations were a key game changer that justified moving away from a focus on the incidence of infection.
"With rising vaccination rates in Germany and the increasing decoupling of incidence and disease burden, the federal and state governments are right to realign their Covid policies," he said.
He argued that the hospitalisation rate should be the key value, followed by the incidence, the vaccination rate and the age profile of those who have been infected.
'Not far enough'
The liberal FDP party, who have long complained that a focus on the 7-day incidence is the wrong strategy, said that the decision to scrap the incidence didn't go far enough.
FDP leader Christian Lindner said that "this isn't enough" and demanded that the government provides a guarantee that it will impose no further restrictions on people's liberties in the coming months.
Criticism of the move towards using hospitalisations as the catalyst for restrictions has come from several quarters.
Intensive care doctors have expressed concern that the government has abandoned the 7-day incidence too soon.
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"We are back to exponential growth of infections and also serious illnesses," said Christian Karagiannidis, head of the Intensive Care Association, in reference to a sharp recent rise in cases.
"Ever more young people are ending up in hospital because they didn't get vaccinated or didn't take it seriously enough until now," he said.
Public broadcaster SWR meanwhile called the decision "reckless" saying that "the incidence is a key alarm signal for showing us where we are heading." It added that a sole focus on hospitalisations ignored the people who suffered long term effects such as fatigue after a milder Covid infection.
Social Democrat health spokesman Karl Lauterbach meanwhile described the move as "wrong", claiming that "we are becoming too lax."
'No one magic number'
Gerald Gaß, chair of the German Hospital Association appealed for the government to follow a middle path.
"For some time now, we have been calling for other indicators to be taken into account in addition to incidence, such as hospitalisation, but also the vaccination rate," he said.
He added though that "just as we have been saying for weeks that incidence cannot be the sole indicator, the same now applies to hospitalisation. There is no lucky formula where the one number explains the entire pandemic."