The current situation is highly precarious and threatens to deteriorate further. Despite the partial lockdown, which was introduced at the start of November, infection numbers are still far too high. Several hundred people are dying every day. Hospitals, and in particular medical staff, are already at the limit of their capacities, and the public health departments are overburdened. To regain control of the infection rate, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina recommends a two-step approach in its ad hoc statement, “Coronavirus pandemic: Use the end of year holidays to impose a strict lockdown”. The circumstances – holiday break for educational institutions and reduced operations for many businesses and public authorities – offer the opportunity to make significant progress in containing the pandemic.
Experience from many other countries (e.g. Ireland) during the pandemic shows that swiftly implemented, strict measures over a short period of time are a great help in reducing infection numbers. The experts point out that stricter measures also make sense from an economic perspective. Admittedly, in the short term, a stricter lockdown will lead to reduced value creation. However, it will also shorten the time until new infections have reached a sufficiently low level as to enable the relaxation of restrictions.
Contacts in both the professional and private spheres would have to be reduced to the absolute minimum as early as 14 December 2020. Home office would have to be the general rule wherever possible. Pupils should not be required to attend school in person from 14 December until the start of the Christmas break. Group activities in sports and culture would have to be suspended. Whenever possible, digital services should replace face-to-face contact.
From 24 December 2020 until 10 January 2021 at the earliest, public life throughout Germany should be restricted as much as possible. In other words, a stricter lockdown should be put in place. To this end, in addition to the measures proposed from 14 December, all shops other than those providing essential services should be closed and the Christmas break for educational institutions extended. The scientists also make recommendations for behavior during the holidays in this statement. Among other things, travel for tourism purposes should be prohibited throughout this period. Gatherings should only take place among a very small, clearly defined and unchanging circle of family members or friends.
When teaching resumes in schools after the end of year holidays, all pupils throughout Germany should be required to wear a mask covering mouth and nose in class, regardless of age. In addition, national regulations for remote learning from secondary level upwards should also be developed and implemented, which would take effect above a certain incidence rate.
A lasting political consensus is also needed on a clear, multi-level, and nationally standardized system of rules that applies once a certain number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants is exceeded. A standardized and comprehensible approach will provide transparency to citizens and businesses and enable them to plan accordingly.
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.
Dr. Kathrin Happe, Deputy Head of the Department Science ‒ Policy ‒ Society
Dr. Stefanie Westermann, Scientific Officer, Department Science ‒ Policy ‒ Society
Johannes Mengel, Scientific Officer, Department Science ‒ Policy ‒ Society