Full planes, full ski resorts, full restaurants – and all this despite the fact that in Germany the infection figures are higher than ever before. In the omicron craze, many seem to have shelved precautionary measures. A risk researcher explains what is happening to us right now.
Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence in Germany has risen to a record high of over 1200 per 100.000 inhabitants. The number of new infections per day has reached a level of more than 200.000 cases per day – a level that we have never seen before.
However, since it has become apparent that the new Omikron variant generally causes much milder courses than its predecessor, many people seem to have lost their fear of infection. Precautions are often taken only half-heartedly or not at all. People crowd into ski resorts, department stores and restaurants as if the pandemic were already over. Even at private meetings, many no longer care about valid rules.
Physicians warn against downplaying omicron
Above all, vaccinated and boostered people feel protected, although they are not immune to infection with the new virus and can pass it on. Even if the vaccination protects against a severe course, there is no guarantee that one will not become seriously ill. In the meantime, many physicians warn against playing down Omikron. Especially since the risk groups, i.e. the elderly and those with previous illnesses, also have a higher risk of becoming severely ill with the new variant.
Also about the long-term consequences of an Omikron infection one knows to date still nothing. Only one thing is certain: even people with a mild or asymptomatic course can suffer from long-covid after infection.
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Corona and omicron have become the new normal
But that doesn’t seem to interest many people at the moment; the call for a relaxation or even abolition of the Corona measures, as Denmark is now doing, for example, has become louder. Even though the federal government is calling for protective measures to continue consistently, for omicron infections to be taken seriously and for responsible action to be taken. Because the risk of becoming infected has never been as high as it is now.
So the Germans don’t care about Corona in the meantime? "What we are experiencing right now is a recalibration of normalcy", explains risk researcher Ortwin Renn, scientific director at the Institute for Transformative Sustainability Research (IASS) in Potsdam, in an interview with FOCUS Online. "Because if you live under stressful conditions for a long time, that’s the new normal." Corona has long since become part of our everyday lives.
Over 60 percent of Germans consider consequences of infection acceptable
"We’ve gotten used to people dying and are now breathing a sigh of relief that there are fewer of them", he continues. "If 200 people a day had died in 2019, panic would have broken out, but now we’re just happy that it’s no longer over 1,000 a day", Renn explains the habituation effect in the population. So we’re re-calibrating the current wave on the normalcy scale: What put us in a state of emergency two years ago, we now feel is normal.
Surveys also confirm this. Even though the risk of infection is now higher than ever, Renn says more than 60 percent of Germans now believe the consequences of infection are less severe and therefore acceptable. "We have learned to live with the virus, the pandemic loses its terror", explains the risk researcher.
In the meantime, everyone knows people in their environment who have been infected with Covid-19 and have recovered – if they have not already been infected themselves. "If Mr. and Mrs. Maier next door have also fallen ill and recovered, then it can’t be all that bad, many people think."It has thus been seen that despite the risk of a severe illness, in many cases the course is no worse than with influenza.
A rebound effect when a crisis subsides is to be expected
Because the vaccination and the milder Omikron variant have now confirmed what was already evident in South Africa at the very beginning: The number of infections is skyrocketing, but the number of severe cases is declining.
That’s why, according to Renn, a rebound effect is to be expected: people quickly revert to their old behavior patterns when a crisis subsides. "There are always those who overcompensate and overshoot the mark, and that is also normal, says Renn. The rebound effect is relatively strong after crises, and people can be expected to have large and boisterous parties again as soon as it is possible again.
People quickly readjust behavior as situation worsens
But just as people fall back into old patterns when the crisis subsides, Renn also sees the potential for behavioral readjustment when the crisis comes to a head again. "The worst case now would be if Omicron did lead to higher mortality, then people would become more cautious again very quickly", he predicts.
Because it was also seen in the pandemic that about 70 to 80 percent of Germans cooperated well and supported the measures – even if many complained about measures that were too lax or too strict. "We have learned as individuals and as a society that we are vulnerable.", according to Renn. The willingness to protect oneself and to adapt one’s behavior to the circumstances would therefore quickly return, should Omikron turn out to be more dangerous than it now appears to be.