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Exit strategies for Covid-19

The number of documented SARS-CoV-2 infections has stabilized in the USA while falling significantly in Europe. France, Italy and Spain are hesitant to announce the first easing of restrictions, but not Austria. And in Germany the controversy about exit strategies is raging.

Published: April 30, 2020, 1:54 pm

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    The mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer (Green), did not mince his words on Sat.1 breakfast television: “I’ll tell you quite brutally: in Germany we may be saving people who will be dead in six months anyway.”

    The experience gained in Austria with economic easing of the lockdown over the past two weeks is encouraging. The opening of hardware stores and small shops since April 14 has not affected the positive trend. From May all shops and many service providers such as hairdressers are also allowed to open, from May 15 catering businesses will be open daily until 11 pm, and from May 29 hotels and swimming pools will reopen.

    Minister of Health Rudolf Anschober said in Vienna that even though the exit restrictions could be left to expire, a distance requirement of one meter and obligatory masks remain. Only if there is a vaccination against the virus can these be discarded.

    From May 11, not only shops, markets and compulsory schools in Switzerland, but also museums, libraries and restaurants will reopen. Poland is also loosening restrictions and plans to reopen hotels and shopping centers on May. Greece will slowly lift Corona restictions in several stages. On May 4 hairdressing salons, electronics stores and bookstores are allowed to open again.

    After six weeks, a gradual opening will be initiated in Portugal. Depending on the region, the opening will be either sooner or later. If new infections allow it, Portugal will also allow tourism this summer – even if beaches, restaurants and hotels certainly have to accept restrictions in the number of visitors.

    In Sweden, despite the comparatively relaxed measures, the number of cases of newly infected people has been declining for a few days. Schools, kindergartens and daycare centers were always open in Sweden, as were restaurants and hotels. According to German health experts such as Karl Lauterbach, the number of cases in Sweden could explode because the epidemiologists there are taking countermeasures such as simply banning large events and relying on a disciplined population.

    In Germany, various virologists have issued contradictory assumptions. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the corona infection rate is rising again in Germany; a surprise as the number of new infections fell to a 6-week low. Every infected person now infects another person; the so-called reproduction rate is 1,0. That may seem threatening, but it is only if this tendency continues. This number is also subject to multiple uncertainties.

    Not all infected people show symptoms and not all people who develop symptoms go to the doctor and not everyone is tested. Only the people who tested positive at the doctor are reported to health authorities, but not all are recorded. In addition, time elapses between incubation and symptoms, symptoms and test, between test results and transmission to a health department and from there to the responsible state authority and from there to the federal disease prevention authority, the RKI.

    In 50 percent of the cases, seven or fewer days pass from the time of the illness to the time the patient is reported to the RKI, and more than seven days for the rest. The RKI tries to use mathematical methods to calculate the time that elapses before a “current case” is reported to the RKI.

    It is therefore no coincidence that the latest estimates of the reproductive rate by the Helmholtz Institute and TU Ilmenau are significantly lower.

    It is worth noting the example of South Korea, where it was already possible to limit the spread of viruses at the beginning of March and to get the economy going again with iron discipline and Asian community spirit.

    To date, more than two million tests for possible infections have been carried out in Germany. The planned draft law for the gradual return to normal economic life by means of more symptom-independent tests, incurs additional expenses of around 60 million euros. However, costs for medical treatment in an unquantifiable amount could be avoided.

    On January 30, Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU) announced that the virus was not transmissible via breathing and aerosols are probably not responsible for a large part of the infections. But droplets of saliva and sputum are distributed when speaking. On March 11 it was said that a mouthguard would not actually protect the wearer.

    On April 2, the RKI came to the realization that masks should be obligatory. One virologist told German ZDF morning magazine: “Respiratory masks definitely protect other people and ourselves to a certain extent.” Thus with a mask requirement, lockdown might not have been needed.

    In the United States, substantial flaws were found in two widely publicized studies trying to estimate the spread of the virus in two California counties, Santa Clara and Los Angeles. The blame for the pandemic misery is now directed at China, but the first US infection occurred on January 21.

    In Europe, football was still played four weeks later. The games of the Champions League on February 19 in Bergamo, Italy and on February 26 in Lyon contributed significantly to the virus spreading.

    In Europe, as in the United States, the drama of Italian corpses was obviously needed for politicians to eventually make unpopular decisions.

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