The fourth wave of the corona pandemic is building before our very eyes at full power. The daily rate of new cases has reached the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic – with a continuing rising trend. 700 people die every week in our country – with a continuing rising trend. Every day of waiting costs human lives. It is time to make an appeal for change.
We remind the leaders of our country’s federal and state governments of their responsibility for the well-being of the population. As fundamental values, health and human freedom are not in conflict with each other but are mutually dependent. To preserve and promote both is the duty of the three democratic powers.
We look with great concern toward the coming weeks and months. The current pandemic situation has the potential to become more devastating than past 2 waves. Once again, the time for early action has passed; despite all dire warnings. The virus is spreading uncontrollably. The health system is in danger of collapse. The staff in the hospitals are exhausted and quitting their jobs. Patient numbers are also rising in the outpatient sector and urgent care clinics are overcrowded. For months, the workload there has been over 100%.
We feel a deep disappointment regarding the danger for social cohesion and the repeatedly negligent treatment of the well-being of the people who depend on the protection by the state. It is incomprehensible to us that the decision-makers in this country have allowed such a situation, despite the existence of effective tools to stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus: First and foremost, unlike many other countries, we have ample vaccine supply at our disposal, which is the most effective preventive measure. In addition, our knowledge and experience with this pathogen should have enabled a more efficient pandemic response.
Various recommendations for action have been clearly communicated over the past one and a half year by ourselves and other scientists but, unfortunately, were only hesitantly, incompletely or not sustainably implemented by the authorities. To the contrary: urgently needed infrastructure for pandemic control, such as contact tracing, testing and vaccination centers, were dismantled. In this fourth wave, pandemic management is not succeeding in the ways that should be expected in light of Germany’s prosperity and its technological and administrative capabilities. Instead, policy makers, through their passivity, increasingly shift the responsibility of crushing the fourth wave to the individual. Such an attitude is totally inappropriate during a national health crisis of this magnitude.
We urgently appeal to those with political duty and authority, at the federal, state and local levels, to assume their full responsibility. That means, first, acknowledging the current reality: This virus is going to keep the world in its grip for a while. It will not simply disappear. Even in its “endemic” state, if reached, it will likely continue to cause severe waves of infection unless vaccination rates are significantly increased. There will always be a clear correlation between incidence and subsequent numbers of hospitalizations, intensive care patients, deceased and long-term disabled. This may change quantitatively but will never decouple. Thus, incidence rates - together with other parameters –remain indispensable as an early warning sign.
Second, responsibility means sincere, sober and above all coherent communication that places trust in the citizens, while conveying unpleasant truths and setting clear and consistent behavioral guidelines. The fact that such communication and uniform binding regulations are still lacking undermines the relationship of trust between the government and the population, thus damaging trust in other pandemic measures such as vaccination and contributing significantly to the prolongation of the pandemic situation.
Third, responsibility means awareness of the German and European role in the global pandemic response. The fundamental condition for fulfilling this role is to control the pandemic in one’s own region. Not only does this prevent infections from spreading from Europe to other countries. But it also frees up capacity to end COVID-19 effectively and rapidly at a global level. Among other things, this contribution must encompass a reduction in global vaccine inequity by supplying countries of the global south with vaccines and supporting the buildup of an immunization infrastructure.
Finally, responsibility means a pandemic response based permanently and with transparency on the knowledge and tools that various scientific disciplines have developed over the past two years. These enable a preventive pandemic policy and prevent the loss of control that would lead to reactive, frantic measures.
With minor adjustments to some current developments, previous recommendations for action are still valid. This is why we are not making any additional detailed proposals at this time. Rather, we have chosen to concentrate on the following general suggestions.
We believe it is necessary for the fight against pandemics to have a stronger basis in their factual understanding. It is undisputed that the power to decide over the fundamental course of action,as well as individual measures, in the fight against the pandemic must lie much more with the parliament than it has been the case in the past. However, it is also undisputed that the decisions must be based much more strongly on scientific findings than they have been in the past. Consideration should be given to whether such a factual basis could be achieved by a professional crisis advisory team, communicated to the public and implemented after political agreement with the appropriate management competence. In addition to experts from various disciplines, it is essential that this team includes virologists, medical doctors, and public health experts, as well as people from the field who have extensive operational leadership and management experience - for example, such as that obtained in clinical settings or in successful companies.
We believe it is necessary to launch a professionally designed communication offensive that will strengthen trust, inform and educate citizens in an appropriate manner and counteract disinformation – disinformation which, all too often, has deadly consequences.
We believe it is necessary to seek sound social and health policy solutions to the conflict that has arisen between the large majority of people who want an active, forward-looking and sustainable pandemic policy and a minority that reject pandemic control as such.
Furthermore, we do not believe that it is helpful to designate factually unjustified or purely politically motivated dates as the end of the pandemic. The end of the pandemic is a factual, not a political determination. No one can seriously predict when the pandemic will end. But there are things the government can do to speed up the end of the pandemic.
We thank you in advance for your answers and especially for your actions