Since the end of July, the number of new infections with the coronavirus has been on the rise again in Germany. Because of falling temperatures and group activities being relocated indoors, the pandemic's development is at risk of becoming difficult to control again. In its ad-hoc statement "Coronavirus pandemic: Establishing effective rules for autumn and winter" the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina points out that to counter this threat in time and maintain public life in the coming months, protective measures must be taken now. The Leopoldina appeals to all responsible parties at the federal and state levels to quickly agree on national, effective, and standardized rules for preventive measures and to ensure that these measures are implemented and complied with more consistently than has been the case to date.
The researchers indicate that the increase in SARS-CoV-2 infections in other European countries such as France, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, or in Israel is more evident than in Germany. Even optimistic predictions suggest that a vaccine against the coronavirus will not be available in sufficient quantities before spring 2021. So far, the efficacy of drug therapies has also been limited. With the onset of the cold and flu season, it will be increasingly challenging to distinguish diseases with similar symptoms from COVID-19.
Against this backdrop, to keep the number of infections at a low level in the coming months, the Leopoldina recommends in its sixth ad-hoc statement on the coronavirus pandemic:
1. Consistent compliance with protective measures: The researchers emphasize that well-known protective measures (physical distance, hygiene, wearing of a mask) and regular air exchange in enclosed spaces remain the most important and effective means of keeping the pandemic under control. Concerning a possible deterioration of the situation in autumn and winter, uniform rules and escalation levels for protective measures should be defined nationally and take effect in line with regional infection rates. These would need to be regularly reassessed and adjusted as required.
2. Rapid, targeted testing, reduced quarantine and isolation periods: To control the infection rate, the statement recommends, among other things, targeted testing according to the respective risk of infection and the availability of test procedures independent of laboratories to differentiate more quickly between a SARS-CoV-2 infection and symptom-related diseases such as influenza. To reduce the negative impact on individuals, family members, the economy, and society, the isolation period following the onset of symptoms could be reduced to around one week in case of a positive test result. Laboratory tests can be used to estimate the current infectiousness. Similarly, the quarantine period for persons who have been exposed to a high risk of infection (Category I contacts, for example, following contact with a person proven to be infected or a stay in a high-risk area) could, according to recent assessments, be reduced from 14 to 10 days.
3. Facilitating responsible behavior: Over the coming months, the pandemic's successful containment will depend on whether the well-known protective measures can be implemented even more consistently than before, according to the experts. To facilitate this, citizens need access to barrier-free knowledge tailored to specific target groups, motivation, the possibility to act accordingly, and clear rules. Equally important and motivating is transparent communication of the basis, procedures, and goals of political decisions.
4. Alleviating social and psychological effects: The statement indicates that mental stress has increased during the pandemic, with potentially long-term consequences for the health of many people. Therefore, support structures are more important than ever, particularly a significantly increased selection of psychotherapeutic and psychiatric treatment and counseling services for prevention and therapy.
The full statement can be accessed at: http://www.leopoldina.org/en/coronavirus
With this statement, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina publishes the sixth ad-hoc statement on the coronavirus pandemic in Germany. It is based on the state of research of the participating scientific disciplines. Making decisions is the task of democratically legitimized politics and responsible institutions. The first five published ad-hoc statements focused on health policy, psychological, social, legal, educational, pedagogical, and economic measures in dealing with the pandemic.
About the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
As the German National Academy of Sciences, the Leopoldina provides independent science-based policy advice on matters relevant to society. To this end, the Academy develops interdisciplinary statements based on scientific findings. In these publications, options for action are outlined; making decisions, however, is the responsibility of democratically legitimized politicians. The experts who prepare the statements work in a voluntary and unbiased manner. The Leopoldina represents the German scientific community in the international academy dialogue. This includes advising the annual summits of Heads of State and Government of the G7 and G20 countries. With 1,600 members from more than 30 countries, the Leopoldina combines expertise from almost all research areas. Founded in 1652, it was appointed the National Academy of Sciences of Germany in 2008. The Leopoldina is committed to the common good.