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Interview with epidemic historians: "This is a gigantic experiment"


              There is no example of this in history. Millions of people are isolated because of the corona pandemic, public life is at a standstill. Epidemic historian Karl-Heinz Leven sees one danger above all: the total economic collapse, as he says in an interview with ntv.de.ntv.de: You have been researching epidemic history for decades, now the corona virus has the world under control. Have you ever expected a pandemic of this magnitude in your life? Karl-Heinz Leven: I always had the warnings of epidemics in mind. But I did not expect this force. And I would not have needed the topicality of the epidemic history in this form. What is special about the corona pandemic? Karl-Heinz Leven is a professor of medical history and director of the Institute for the History and Ethics of Medicine at the University of Erlangen. (Photo: private) Millions of people worldwide have to stay in their homes and apartments, entire economies are being shut down. There is no example of this in history. We are trying to nip a pandemic in the western world with all medical and material means because we do not accept a higher death rate. This is a gigantic experiment that has never been done before, but isn't it logical that we take this experiment? Initially, some politicians, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, seem to have planned to seek infection and rapid herd immunity. Of course, this is very risky.What did you do in the past? In the past, you also acted against epidemics, in some cases similar to now: with closing measures, quarantine, and placing the sick in pest houses. Then there were also measures that now seem naive to us: in the early modern era, it was believed that impurities in the air caused the epidemics. That is why cannons were fired and it was hoped that the powder vapor would neutralize these substances. The famous colognes was originally a remedy for the plague, in order to neutralize the odor of a steam in the air that was considered harmful – a kind of idea of ​​disinfection. Unfortunately, it didn't work. Little was known about the diseases, and there was the idea that epidemics were a kind of heavenly punishment for sinful behavior – which is why it was also part of the order to stop cursing or indulging in dice. Morality plays a big role in the plague. Even today we occasionally find a moral undertone in the instructions of the politicians, but witch hunts no longer take place. Fortunately, this danger no longer exists, people are so smart now. They are informed in a medically sound way – also about the cause of the disease, the virus. That is why there are far fewer conspiracy theories circulating. During the plague in the 14th century, entire communities were exterminated by Jews because they were accused of poisoning the wells. In the early modern period there were lynching processes against alleged "plagues", terrible torture, executions. The public hysteria was discharged in witch hunts, the public order derailed in a state of "anomie", literally "lawlessness" – which was obvious. After all, 30 to 40 percent of the population died within a short period of time with some epidemics. These are conditions from which we are miles away in today's pandemic. What dangers do you see today? Mortality will not be the problem. Something really immense and really threatening is something else: the total economic collapse that we are causing right now through the closure measures. This damage will occupy us for a long time and will have consequences, of which no one can have clear ideas today. Economists and politicians see the possible costs at World War II level. However, it can also be very different, that is, run better. That is possible. A vaccination against Corona has been under high pressure for months, even if we may not have it until the end of this or the beginning of next year – so probably too late for the current pandemic. But at the same time, active ingredients and medicines are also being tried out in many places. A substance that can alleviate at least the most difficult and most difficult courses will cause a worldwide sigh of relief. If you take these consequences into account: Are the current measures, the shutdown of the economy, proportionate? One should start to think about the proportionality – but without moral to become. If you say across the board: "It's about life and death", there is little room for differentiated discussions. The question is how far we can increase the stake and put everything on one card. We need to see what kind of engagement we can continue to do over a longer period of time and how we can get the most benefit from the larger number. What can we do with limited resources? This question also arises again and again, in medicine and in other fields of action. Is this health system well prepared for the pandemic? The German healthcare system is one of the best in the world and is comparatively well equipped – even if nursing staff are lacking and there are other problems. However, in addition to the corona cases, other patients must be treated in the clinics, which is a matter of course and at the same time an enormous effort. By flattening the infection curve, we gain time. But what happens if we lift the barriers now, how long should we lock now, according to the logic of virology, would you have to lock until you either have a vaccine that is widely available, or until you have a reasonably reliable one There is a therapeutic agent available – at least a remedy that can reduce severe courses well. China does not seem to be interested in this, the country has largely lifted the curfew. Allegedly, there are no more cases of infection, and I am puzzled about China. Or to put it a little casually: It seems that a medical miracle has happened. A very contagious disease that is quite dangerous is suddenly declared as no longer present. The last infected person was greeted with flowers a week ago and all the helpers went home. What's going on there? The infection will of course continue to spread. I can only speculate: will the Chinese let the virus go through the country and accept the rapid infection to save the economy? Here I hope journalistic research, as far as this is possible, as transparency and information from the media play a very important role, especially in pandemic times. After your knowledge of thousands of years of epidemic history: What do you recommend in dealing with the virus? That you don't go crazy and don't go crazy, but stay sober and keep a cool head. My motto is: One gram of brain replaces 100 liters of sterillium. As far as sobriety is concerned, the Germans seem to be in good hands with Chancellor Angela Merkel. I have the impression that German politics is prudent and rational. The word from the mouth of the sober Chancellor "The situation is serious and please take it seriously", the situation is very accurate. Gudula Hörr spoke to Karl-Heinz Leven.

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