A rule-freedom mix that will not get along without a sensible population

In the pandemic, we got used to new terms: incidence, excess mortality, R-value, hotspots. But if Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) have their way, two well-known things should be decisive for this Corona winter: winter tires and snow chains. Because everyone knows: When it gets cold, the winter tires are put on. And when the snow flurries get really thick and it gets slippery, then you need the chains.

And so the new concept of the two ministers for autumn and winter provides that there are basic measures by the federal government as well as measures that can in principle be imposed by the states – this applies above all to the obligation to wear masks indoors. And if there is imminent danger in certain regions because the health system is about to be overloaded, the countries can saddle it up again with upper limits for events.

With Lauterbach and Buschmann, two politicians wrestled with this concept for a long time, and their political views on the pandemic could hardly be more different. Lauterbach sees himself as Minister of “Team Caution”, Buschmann as a fighter in “Team Freedom”. Now the big question is: is your compromise enough to prevent the healthcare system from being overloaded? Perhaps the image of “winter tires” suggests more safety than the concept actually offers.

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The FDP had already marked out its red lines beforehand: no possibility for lockdowns, no blanket school closures, no compulsory vaccination. This left little bargaining chip. The result was a kind of minimal consensus.

Lauterbach was able to persuade his colleague to expand the mask requirement indoors. For example, countries could again make it compulsory to wear an FFP2 mask when shopping. And if the situation gets more serious for older students, wearing a medical mask in class. One can also be glad that the obligation to isolate infected people has remained.

New vaccines to reduce infections

Lauterbach also emphasized that the vaccines adapted to the prevailing BA.5 variant should be added to the measures from autumn. While the current vaccines primarily protect against severe courses, the new ones would also immunize more strongly against infections. That is indeed a glimmer of hope.

Nevertheless, the new concept has weaknesses. First, there will be a patchwork quilt again in the winter. Very little is prescribed nationwide. Each country decides for itself which profile its “winter tires” have.

It is also unclear when a situation is so dangerous that the countries put on the “snow chains”. You can use indicators such as incidences, hospital occupancy or virus concentrations in the wastewater as a guide. There are no specific thresholds. The countries are already complaining about this, and rightly so.

Not everything that is permissible is also sensible

Secondly, the concept of Lauterbach and Buschmann provides that the federal states can impose a mask requirement for leisure facilities such as bars, restaurants and fitness studios. But this does not apply there if you are “freshly” vaccinated, tested or recovered.

The question is: Who is supposed to control this? 2G or 3G rules like last winter could no longer be done with the FDP. It cannot be reliably predicted whether this light protection against infection will ultimately be sufficient to get through the winter without overloading the health system.

Ultimately, the behavior of the population will also be decisive for the course of the pandemic. In the private sphere, too, people will have to put on “winter tires”. That means avoiding mass events, testing regularly and sometimes wearing the mask voluntarily. As always, the same applies this winter: not everything that is permitted is also reasonable.

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