But Karl Lauterbach, a doctor and member of parliament with the SPD who has been a prominent expert in the pandemic, argues “it would be wrong to abandon the infection rate” as a determining factor in virus containment measures. “It shows us how quickly the number of cases is rising,” he says. But Lauterbach is also against imposing overly stringent measures if case numbers start to soar again. “A new lockdown can’t be the way then – we would have to put up a big fight,” he says. He believes times have changed. “The willingness of the population to accept a new lockdown is simply too low.
Some state governors hold a similar view. “There will be a fourth wave, but the situation is different today than it was a year ago,” says Thuringia Governor Bodo Ramelow. He says nationwide lockdowns will be unnecessary as well as a law passed last spring that allows the federal government to impose national restrictions if infections get out of control. Rainer Haseloff, the governor of Saxony-Anhalt, argues that move was superfluous. “If the infection figures rise again in autumn, the states and local authorities will react appropriately.
Lauterbach urges those children aged 12 and over should now be vaccinated as a matter of urgency in order to reduce the delta risk among that group too.” But the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO), which is affiliated with Germany’s center for disease control, has decided not to make the recommendation for youth to get vaccinated, even though the vaccine has been approved for all children over the age of 12. “At the moment, there is no reason for a hasty change, even if this has been demanded at times,” says STIKO chairman Thomas Mertens. The expert says a “higher pathogenicity of the variant for children” has not been shown. As such, he argues, the vaccination of parents, grandparents and teachers should remain the priority.
Health Ministry officials are ken to get more children vaccinated in the states soon and they were unhappy with the decision made by STIKO. Spahn expects that enough vaccine will still be available for all 12- to 18-year-olds to be vaccinated by the end of August if they want to. Time is short. Within the government, there is concern that schools could become hotbeds for the virus in the fall. Would they then have to close them or return to hybrid learning with split classes? That’s not the kind of issue politicians want to come up during the election campaign.
The federal government knows that it would be a massive failure if it isn’t able to work together to come up with a way of having schools operate at least halfway normally in the autumn. In some places, air purifiers are now being ordered. Bavaria, for example, wants to have a device installed in every classroom after the summer. But there hasn’t been any coordinated procurement effort.
And German Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) says she doesn’t want to guarantee that the school year will be normal because we don’t know enough about the delta variant. “We have to be prepared for the fact that there can always be outbreaks at individual schools after summer vacation, especially during the winter months,” she says. Karliczek says the aim needs to be identifying those infections quickly “so that there are, at most, short-term interruptions” to classes.
She says that hybrid education is out of the question for the fall. “Students across all grades should be taught together again in their classes next school year,” Karliczek says, delta or no delta. Parents might love hearing that.
But there is some bad news: No matter what happens in the coming weeks, the curse of the mutants is likely to continue. It’s not enough to defeat delta. At any time, a new variant can emerge somewhere in the world that is even more contagious.
In fact, virologists in Europe just discovered a version of the virus that could be the next to spread. Its name: delta plus.