DER SPIEGEL: There are also scientists who argue that the measures should not be tightened again. Virologist Hendrik Streeck, for example, is arguing for a shift in strategy. He has said that we shouldn’t focus on “the pure infection figures alone” when analyzing the situation. You countered him on Twitter, writing: “If we wait for the death toll to rise again, then we’ll be trailing the pandemic.” What’s the alternative?
Lauterbach: To continue paying attention to the increasing number of cases and take appropriate measures before it’s too late. Of course, there are also currently a lot of people with mild cases. But in France and Spain, we have seen that it hit younger people first, but the virus then spread to older people. This will also be the case in Germany. It will take another four weeks before more elderly people contract the disease, and then we will again be faced with more severe cases. And then it will take another four weeks until the first people who fell ill in that group die. I expect we will see an increase in deaths in six to eight weeks.
DER SPIEGEL: Trump is no doubt also familiar with such epidemiological assessments. And yet he still held an election campaign event in an arena filled with thousands of spectators last weekend. Why does he continue to pretend that this isn’t a highly contagious virus?
Lauterbach: The event was a reflection of Trump’s corona policy: He’s apparently willing to accept the death of some of his supporters if that promises him success. His re-election is more important to him than the fate of the American people. In my opinion, he is unscrupulous.
DER SPIEGEL: Just how unscrupulous he can be became clear in an interview with the journalist Bob Woodward, during which Trump himself admitted that he has played down the danger posed by the virus – to prevent panic, he claims.
Lauterbach: But there is a difference between informing and spreading panic. Trump deliberately misinformed the public and deliberately exposed the citizenry to risk. In doing so, he took advantage of his authority as the U.S. president. By virtue of his office, he is considered the best-informed person in the country. He has access to exclusive information from top universities and intelligence services. So, when Trump declares a virus to be harmless, people believe him more than they do, for example, the media.
DER SPIEGEL: Did Trump deliberately misinterpret or simply ignore all the advice from experts?
Lauterbach: What I am hearing from colleagues and friends at Harvard University and other research institutions is that scientists have never been less involved in the political process than in the past four years. Normally, top universities in particular have quite a bit of political influence. Republican presidents traditionally turn to Stanford and MIT, while Democratic presidents look to Harvard. Trump doesn’t turn to any of them. The expertise of the world’s best scientists in virology and epidemiology simply isn’t being tapped.
DER SPIEGEL: There is Trump’s pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci …
Lauterbach: … who Trump treats like he’s his court jester. It is not known that Trump – like Angela Merkel, for example – is in close contact with experts.
DER SPIEGEL: Will there be a third wave after the second?
Lauterbach: It is not possible to say at the moment. I think rapid antigen tests will play a big role in 2021 – they will be of huge importance in helping to fight the pandemic. Then there will be vaccines that will help us. We will get some relief again in the spring because the situation will calm down. I’m optimistic that the situation will improve significantly overall in the coming year. But the virus won’t disappear yet.