Germany is doing well in the corona crisis. It currently has 61 deaths per million inhabitants. Partly as a result of this, the call for relaxation of the corona measures is becoming increasingly strong in Germany. And since the beginning of this week, the lockdown has been loosening in certain federal states, because a number of smaller stores were allowed to reopen. But some states, entrepreneurs, politicians and opinion makers want to go faster. Which leads to irritation at Chancellor Angela Merkel. She takes the cautious, disciplined approach and talked about “an orgy of discussions” circulating to ease the measures.
Christian Drosten, a 48-year-old virologist from Berlin, joins her. Drosten and Merkel claim that the entire discussion is based on a “security situation that is not there yet.” “I regret the last few days when we are about to lose our lead completely,” he warns. “We are one of the few countries worldwide where the number of infections is decreasing. And in that list, we are the country with the largest population and the most transparent reporting. ”
That false sense of security among citizens is, as mentioned above, fueled by the favorable figures. One of these is the reproduction number or R value. That represents the number of people infected by each new case of Covid-19. In other words, how many other people infect each patient on average.
The R value had fallen below 1 in Germany – to 0.8 after it was initially 3 – which significantly slows down the spread of the virus. But, Drosten warns, even with a reproduction value of less than 1, the coronavirus continues to spread “under the covers” – almost unnoticed. Also outside the hotspots.
Relapsing too quickly into old life inevitably pushes that reproduction number back up and in all likelihood triggers another exponential increase in the number of Covid-19 cases. On Monday, the R value in Germany had risen to 0.9.
All this could lead to a second wave of contamination, more powerful and difficult to contain than the first, because the wave starts everywhere at the same time. The current measures would then no longer suffice. “We then get situations where tank trucks with disinfectant are driving through the streets, because those are the only measures to take it a step further, in a desperate attempt,” said Drosten.
There is an example of this worst case scenario: the Spanish flu in 1918. Drosten explains that the outbreak in the spring of 1918 happened locally and was unevenly distributed. Due to measures such as curfews and the summer effect, the disease seemed to have disappeared afterwards. Until she resurfaced in vigor in winter, everywhere at once. An estimated 50 million people worldwide died from Spanish flu. Most of them during that second wave.
Christian Drosten is from Emsland, where he grew up as the eldest son on his parents’ farm. Taking over the farm was not for him. He went to study chemistry and biology, then medicine. In 2003 he obtained his doctorate in his early thirties. He worked at the Bernhard Nocht Institute in Hamburg and from 2007 to 2017 headed the Institute of Virology of the University Hospital in Bonn. In 2017 he became director of the Institute of Virology of the Charité Hospital in Berlin.
Due to the corona pandemic, all of Germany now knows him. Drosten, 48, has been making a daily podcast about the corona virus since the end of February. Very popular: According to Apple, Drosten had weeks of most podcast listeners in all of Germany.
The virologist is also not the first scientifically. He is one of the discoverers of the SARS virus, to which the new coronavirus, with the scientific name SARS-CoV-2, is related. That made him famous, also because he immediately made his results known to the world with a view to faster scientific progress. In 2003 he developed a diagnostic test for SARS almost immediately after the virus outbreak with a German colleague. His team did the same in mid-January this year for the new coronavirus that is ravaging the world today. He also worked on the MERS coronavirus in 2012.
Together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he advises, Christian Drosten represents the most important voice in the German corona crisis.