The Committee in Health of the German Bundestag wanted to gain clarity about the Covid-19 pandemic – and failed completely
By Tilo Gräser.
Note on the Rubikon article: The following text first appeared in „Rubikon – Magazin für die kritische Masse“, on whose advisory board Daniele Ganser and Rainer Mausfeld are active, among others. Since the publication was done under a free license (Creative Commons), KenFM takes over this text for secondary use and explicitly points out that the Rubicon also depends on donations and needs support. We need many alternative media!
The “ epidemic situation of national importance “ decided by the Bundestag in March is still valid. The FDP faction wants the state of emergency to be lifted. They justify this withh the meanwhile relaxed situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in this country. But in a hearing of the Bundestag’s Committee on Health, doctors warned that it could get worse again. Virologist Christian Drosten set the tone. But not all of the invited experts joined the choir. They drew attention to the social and legal consequences of the anti-corona measures. This included the constitutional problems that arise when the government and authorities disempower the Parliament. It was not a brilliant moment for German parliamentarianism.
Leading representatives of professional associations in the health care system do not want the „epidemic situation of national importance“ to be reversed in the near future. They declared this on Wednesday in a public hearing of the Bundestag Committee on Health. The occasion was a motion by the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag on June 17 this year. The Liberals want this situation to be declared over and necessary anti-corona measures to be continued on a different legal basis. To this end, the FDP faction has also already presented a bill in June.
But the representatives of the associations consider this to be too early, as they said. On the other hand, several legal experts argued that the legal situation should be reviewed and changed in view of the lower numbers of Covid-19 pandemic cases. The „epidemic situation of national importance“, which the Bundestag noted on 25 March this year, still applies. This is the basis for the fact that the Infection Protection Act has been amended. The Federal Ministry of Health has thus been authorized to intervene in the social life and basic rights of German citizens with ordinances and legal regulations. This, in turn, is allegedly to provide protection against the Sars-Cov-2 virus and the Covid-19 disease it causes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Only the Bundestag can state that this situation is over.
This has not happened so far, even though all relevant German figures on the Covid-19 pandemic have fallen so low that this would be possible. Even the Bild newspaper recently noticed this and drew attention to it on Monday. Among other things, the paper showed with four graphs that the percentage of positive test results has been significantly low for a long time, as has the number of those who are counted as dead „in connection with Covid-19“. „The percentage of severe corona cases continues to decrease“, was written on page 3.
Despite the increase in infections, the number of patients in intensive care units is decreasing and currently stands at 235 nationwide. Most recently, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 20 to 30 deaths related to Covid-19 per week. The Bild-Zeitung commented:
„In recent years, about 16,000 people have died every week in July in Germany. Statistically, the mortality caused by Corona is currently not significant“.
The decreased numbers should not be „misunderstood“, explained first in the hearing of the virologist Christian Drosten. He again warned of a „second wave“ in the fall and claimed that the situation had not changed fundamentally. The low numbers for weeks are the result of the lockdown in spring, the virologist claimed. He did not provide any evidence for this. He also referred to the increasing reported figures in countries such as France, Spain and Great Britain. This was also a threat to the Federal Republic „with great probability“, he claimed.
As in many of his public appearances, Drosten contradicted himself in his statements, for example when he spoke about the „everyday masks“. It was not known whether the masks had contributed to the declining figures such as those of the positive test results. According to him, this also applies to the declining number of severe Covid-19 cases. The positive test results are misleadingly disseminated by politicians and the media as „infection figures“ or „case numbers“. Nonetheless, Drosten continues to consider the „everyday masks“ important and does not want the obligation to wear them to end. No one in the hearing took up the fact that the virologist himself doubted the usefulness of „mouth and nose covering“: he noted that there are countries, such as in Asia, where „masks have been worn throughout from the beginning“ and yet major outbreaks have occurred there.
Undeterred by this, Drosten spoke out against lifting the „epidemic situation of national importance“. This made him the keynote speaker for many of the other experts and representatives of associations whom the committee had invited. Most of them reflected what can be read in the previously submitted statements of their associations and organizations.
This went so far that intensive care physician Uwe Janssens called for the state of emergency to be maintained, despite „the stable situation“. He considers this necessary because in autumn, as every year, there will be more colds including influenza and other viral diseases such as those caused by noroviruses. „We really need to be in a position of caution in the coming months,“ says Janssens. He is President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIV). „Our great concern is that the spread of infections is now easing.“ Therefore, „distance, mouth-and-nose protection, hand hygiene last“ is still necessary, because these measures would „keep the doctors‘ backs free“. This was the only way to prevent a new lockdown, the intensive care physician from Eschweiler put the system in panic mode. Bernhard Bornhofen, head of the public health department in Offenbach, was no different. He demanded that the measures justified by the „epidemic situation“ should not be stopped. Gernot Kiefer of the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds also agreed to the Drosten demand. „In view of the risk situation as it still exists“, Kiefer claimed that it was „not appropriate“ to follow the FDP’s request.
ENT physician Ellen Lundershausen also wants the situation to remain unchanged, she explained. The Vice President of the German Medical Association said: „We can be happy about what we have achieved in the last few months. She demanded that this should „not be put at risk thoughtlessly“.
Like Drosten and the other representatives of the association, Lundershausen was not irritated by the fact that Covid-19 infections affect only about one percent of the population. „99 percent of the people are not affected by the infection, but by the measures taken.“ Ansgar Gerhardus from the German Public Health Association (DGPH) reminded the audience of this at the end of the hearing.
In the meeting at least from social medical specialists such as Ansgar Gerhardus and Matthias Schrappe as well as from legal experts clear doubts were to be heard. They pointed out that it is not only because of the legal consequences to ask whether the anti-corona measures are still reasonable. Such doubts were not expressed by the members of the committee itself, except for the AfD representatives. Criticism of the political approach was expressed in the hearing by the internist Matthias Schrappe, among others. He pointed out that in the Covid-19 case, many previously known rules for dealing with an epidemic had not been followed. Fundamental criticism was appropriate, he said, because fundamental knowledge from infection science had not been considered, which had “ long been known“.
„Society must learn to live with this infection,“ said Schrappe. There is no alternative to this, which is why target group-oriented prevention is necessary instead of measures that paralyze the entire society. The physician had already drawn attention to this together with other experts in several thesis papers, which can be found on his website.
In his written statement for the Health Committee, Schrappe stated:
„In managing the epidemic so far, numerous mistakes have been made, which could have been avoided by a broader scientific and professional consultation, for example by economists, lawyers, pedagogues, psychologists (because of the psychological consequences, for example loneliness), nursing scientists, sociologists, political scientists. To the extent that these perspectives can be summarized as a „public health“ perspective, it can be clearly stated: This perspective was not queried and therefore remained largely unused“.
For this reason, he supported, among other things, the proposal from the parliamentary group of the Alliance 90/The Greens, to establish a nationwide pandemic council to expand the perspectives in such cases.
He judges the situation „not significantly different from the medical experts“, said the lawyer Franz Knieps. He is a board member of the BKK umbrella organization. Knieps emphasized that attention must be paid to what is triggered by the „epidemic situation“. This included the fact that the parliamentary reservation was partially lifted. Only public pressure had prevented that not everything was enforced by decree and order. The separation of powers – a basic element of a democratic constitutional state – was „at least in individual phases sometimes somewhat pulverized“. The association’s representative also referred to the restrictions on fundamental rights resulting from the politically decreed measures. Like the other legal consequences, the restrictions had to be examined to see whether they were still appropriate today. The legal expert Thorsten Kingreen drew the attention of the parliamentarians to the constitutional problems of the epidemic situation. He contradicted the accusation that the FDP motion was trivializing the situation. At present there is no more danger for the public health in view of the current data, differently than in March, so Kingreen. The possibility, according to the Robert Koch Institute, (RKI) that this could change again „at any time“ did not justify maintaining the „epidemic situation“.
„You cannot maintain illegal decisions in the uncertain expectation that they might at some point become legal,“ the legal expert explained to the members of the Bundestag. He had the impression that the epidemic was equated with the „epidemic situation“. In Kingreen’s view, this follows the idea that the situation decided by the Bundestag is only over when the epidemic ends. But it will not end on March 31, 2021 either – according to the previous resolution, the „epidemic situation“ is to last until that day.
Kingreen warned of the „danger of perpetuation“ that this situation could continue until the end of the legislative period in the fall of 2021. He also saw „very considerable problems,“ he said in response to a question whether the enabling orders of the BMG were compatible with the Basic Law. There were already about 1,000 regulations that the ministry under Jens Spahn (CDU) could change, although it was up to parliament to decide on them. „This is a very considerable carte blanche and above all weakens the opposition in the German Bundestag. The opposition is thus largely excluded from the legislation in connection with the Corona crisis. It is not only a question of democratic legitimacy, but also of the fact that it is no longer certain which law will be partially annulled by a statutory order.“
Kingreen warned against the „fatal impression“ of a state of emergency that could not be handled in the forms and procedures prescribed by the constitution. The legal expert was one of the few clearly critical voices among the experts who provided information to the members of the Committee on Health via video conference.
The recording of the hearing can be viewed on the Committee’s website. A transcript of the hearing will also be available there shortly. To me, the Committee on Health, with its hearing, gave me less the impression that it was concerned with finding out the facts and figures about the current situation. Instead, the positions of the political groups seemed clear even before the hearing. Apparently, the experts were only supposed to confirm the different views. This is helped by the fact that, on the one hand, the question times are measured according to the strength of the respective faction. Thus, the governing parties of the Grand Coalition, which are behind the decision on the „epidemic situation“, have an advantage. On the other hand, each faction can invite experts to a hearing. Understandably, they stand by the respective position and have usually participated in it or advise the respective faction.
The Committee on Health of the German Bundestag did not do what was necessary with this hearing: providing information about the actual current situation in the proclaimed Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences. Thus it seems clear that the FDP motion to repeal the „epidemic situation of national importance“ will soon be rejected by a majority of the Bundestag.
Members of the Bundestag in particular would have to support what, for example, the independent Corona Investigation Committee with its limited resources is doing: Investigate why the federal and state governments have imposed unprecedented restrictions, sometimes bypassing the parliaments, and what consequences they have had for people. And promote scientific studies in this field. But this seems to be of little interest to the elected „representatives of the people“.
Lack of evidence
Apparently, this also applies to the current findings of the German Network of Evidence-Based Medicine (EbM) on Covid-19:
„There is altogether still very little loadable evidence, neither to Covid-19 itself nor to the effectiveness of the measures taken at present, but it cannot be excluded that the measures taken despite to a large extent missing evidence could cause in the meantime larger damage than the virus itself.“ From the network’s point of view, any measures should be scientifically accompanied accordingly, „in order to document the benefit and harm or the relationship between benefit and harm. In particular randomized studies are urgently needed in order to support the political decisions appropriately.“
It further states:
„The current increase in the number of positive test results without a simultaneous increase in hospitalizations, intensive care and deaths does not currently justify drastic measures unless they are tested in advance or accompanied by high-quality research“. The EbM physicians also demand from the media to stop „the misleading reports of absolute numbers without reference value“.
It was precisely these misleading figures that the representatives of the associations repeatedly referred to in the Committee on Health in the Bundestag when they demanded that the „epidemic situation“ be maintained. Andreas Gassen, Chairman of the Federal Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), did not fundamentally contradict them in the committee on Wednesday. On Friday, however, he clearly broke away from the joint chorus and said:
„You can switch off the panic mode. The figures give reason to reconsider corona measures without becoming reckless“. He said this to the magazine Business Insider from the Springer group. Gassen urged the magazine not to focus too much on the R-value or the infection figures. „Everything always revolves around the numbers, but nobody can really interpret them.“ The decisive factor is how dangerous the virus is and that risk groups are protected. „However, there is no need to panic immediately when an otherwise healthy person gets Corona,“ says the KBV chairman. Such hints faded away on Wednesday in the Bundestag committee – which was thereby after all a mirror of the current condition of the society. And thus the delegates duly put their „mouth and nose cover“ in front of their faces when the hearing was over.
Tilo Gräser, Jahrgang 1965, ist Rubikon-Redakteur. Zuvor hat er als Korrespondent für RIA Novosti Deutschland/Sputniknews gearbeitet. Der Diplom-Journalist war bereits für verschiedene Medien und als Pressesprecher tätig. Seine Schwerpunkte sind Politik, Soziales und Geschichte.
Thanks to the author for the right to publish.
This article first appeared on 12.09.2020 at Rubikon – Magazine for critical mass
Image source: Chris Redan / shutterstock
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