Germany on the way from a part-lockdown to a full-lockdown?
Leaders of the German national subsidiaries and the federal government, above all the chancellor Merkel, ask for stricter contact limitations. Although the current conditions in form of a part-lockdown as reaction to increasing numbers of covid-19-infections throughout Germany restrict numbers of people, who are allowed to meet up inside or outside as well as the numbers of households, to which they belong, already remarkably. All public places for socializing and cultural activities are closed, also sport clubs, public swimming trainings or outdoor sport activities in greater groups are impossible. That means, bars, cafés, restaurants are closed. Theaters and opera houses as well. Especially „smaller“ stage artists suffer existentially.
Only the german football (soccer) is still omni-present in the news reports. I don’t know why. Seemingly their games can happen under limited circumstances. I am not interested in football at all. It is also not football, which is since the beginning of the human evolution a major fundament of our societies, it’s art. Art is not only creativity, it also stands for legal criticism against all aspects of social and political interactions. Thus something important is missing. And private life? It is already in the recent part-lockdown harmed in a way, that acts against the human biology as social primates. Not only old people in retirement homes live almost under conditions of a dentation centre, also single-persons of all ages, living in smaller apartments, need to tolerate loneliness. The Homo sapiens is a social species, too much isolation can cause longtime-damages, emotionally, psychologically, in case of older people even physically. Not to forget those citizens without any kind of home. The many homeless people, especially in Berlin, are very sensible victims of recent restrictions. Are all these risks, the Germans actually are exposed to, worth to happen? I think yes, they are, if it is for a limited time and under circumstances, which do not cause more damages than the virus infections themselves. It is fact that the new corona virus can be harmful to people of all ages, especially when there are significant medical histories existing. But as all these sanctions represent limitations of our basic laws, it is important that all these limitations are reversed when the pandemic is over.
Critical questions are allowed. They are also important and necessary. And you even do not need to be a believer of modern religious movements like Qanon. I for example ask for the relevance of indirect contacts between individuals for the still too high infection numbers. When I see super markets, forcing their clients to use shopping baskets or trolleys without employees existing, who desinfect each of them before and after use, then I hear the virus clapping amused its non existing hands: „We couldn’t get you so far? Here we are, left behind from hundreds of people per day, who touched this basket or this trolley before!“ Are such contra- productive rules necessary, even when the argument is that baskets and cars force a proper distance between customers? Also in U-Bahn cars (subway etc.), trams or busses, an indirect virus transfer between passengers needs to be much better prevented . Shouldn’t it be possible to employ people, who permanently walk through the cars and desinfect seats and handrails whenever possible?
As a natural scientist and active researcher as well as reviewer for scientific journals I know that statistics generally bear many reasons for critical questions. It can easily happen that submitted natural-scientific papers in peer-review journals are rejected by the reviewers based on doubtful or insufficient or even wrong statistical methods. We read or hear in the news permanently about growing incidence numbers. Many people might think that these are given facts, about which questions or critical remarks are not appropriate or necessary. Based on the limited informations via the popular media, the following questions are very sure and from a scientific point of view of interest: How many people of a specific region, for example a district of Berlin, were tested and how many were not? In case of higher numbers of non-tested citizens, statistical means need to be used in order to extrapolate to the whole population of the corresponding region. It is important that a statistical variance within the tested people is guaranteed. There would for example be a lack of a sufficient variance, if it came out that specific genders or specific occupational groups had more reasons or even forces to participate test procedures than others. Statistical tests always have a defined probability of errors. But more and illegitime errors can for examples be added, when research institutions need to provide a defined high number of data in a defined period of time, especially when the procedure is well paid and „success“ thus economically important. According to my knowledge and experiences, scientific studies can only be finished, when they are finished. Evaluations in defined time periods with defined numbers of sample sizes are prone to error. I know from commercial institutions for market and opinion research that the time pressure is often or sometimes used for the disadvantage of a sufficient variation of test persons. Some facilitate their work by contacting such people for phone interviews, who’s telephone numbers were part of a commercial phone number trading. That means they buy existing phone numbers instead of generating them via a random number generator. Additionally/ or they facilitate statistical methods, which were developed to guarantee a variation of test persons. An example is the „Geburtstagsschlüssel (birthday key)“, which requires from the interviewer to strictly only talk to that person of a household, who was the last to have birthday or alternatively will be the next to celebrate it. If that person, so the rules, is not available, the interview cannot happen. Based on economic interests of the institutions and the time pressure, facilitated versions of the „birthday-key“ are sometimes used. Such as: asking for the birthday person in the household, and if the person is not available interviewing everybody available instead, or even leaving the birthday key completely out. Results of such „manipulated“ evaluations can be representative nevertheless. But they also might not be representative at all. There exist examples for extrapolations of upcoming electoral successes, being far removed from the real situations. What does all this have to do with evaluations about covid-19-infection numbers? I hope that independent sources regularly control the responsible research institutions regarding the proper use of statistical methods even under time pressure conditions.
In case it is made sure that indeed bars, restaurants, theaters and opera houses and not indirect contaminations elsewhere or statistical errors or manipulations cause the permanently high numbers of new infections everywhere in Germany, a total lockdown will be unavoidable. The German government and the federal state representatives will come together for further deliberations still before Christmas. This was announced in the news today. It is important that the decision for stricter measures need to take those groups of the German population under consideration, which might physically, psychologically or financially too much harmed by a full-lockdown over a longer period of time. It furthermore needs to be excluded that participating politicians have other motivations than protecting us from a pandemic virus, such as lust for power, interest in totalitarian experiments or a total lack of empathy.
Berlin, 08.12.2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth