More infectious, but milder? How to deal with the contradictions
S ince two years, Corona has dominated our daily lives – it’s a marathon full of personal hardships for everyone. But we should run it even further, experts say. Only: How to keep it going?
Rarely has the situation of the Corona pandemic been more difficult for individuals to grasp than at present. On the one hand, there are the immensely high infection rates and the warnings that important critical infrastructure is or could be on the verge of being overloaded – hospitals, but also fire departments, water suppliers or transport companies.
On the other hand, it is often said that although Omikron spreads rapidly, it is much more likely to be mild. In addition, experts are expressing hope for a foreseeable end to the pandemic.
Tiredness after two years of pandemic
And as if it were not already difficult enough for the individual to classify everything for himself and to derive adequate behavior from this contradictory situation – omicron wave, warnings, mild course, pandemic perhaps soon over. Then there are the ever-changing rules: 2G, 3G, how long does the quarantine last, when can you clear yourself with which test, am I still considered recovered?? The list could be extended.
It’s hard to keep an eye on things. And it makes many tired after two years of pandemic. Virologist Ralf Bartenschlager also observes this: "This fatigue exists on two levels," he says. The one thing is to stay informed about the rules. "The other is the will, the solidarity, to go along with measures and specifications," says the president of the Society for Virology.
An insight into current sensitivities is provided by a long-term study involving the University of Erfurt and the Robert Koch Institute, among others. The name of the project is abbreviated Cosmo. Since March 2020, around 1,000 adults have been regularly surveyed on how they perceive the pandemic.
The "perceived risk" has decreased
At the last round of interviews on 11. and 12. The results of the January survey showed that the respondents perceived an increased risk of infection. But the "perceived risk" has decreased, the severity of a possible infection is considered to be lower than in December or in the previous Corona waves.
Further it was said: The protective behavior is "stable at best". It lies under the protective behavior in the last Corona waves. Masks that are worn a lot over a long period of time are an exception. But the trend in perception seems to be: Everything’s not so bad, then I’ll let it slide with the caution.
Now, it is indeed the case that Omicron is more often mild – it is the vaccinations that protect well against severe courses, as the data show. But it is much too early to sound the all-clear, warn science and medicine.
Thus, Omikron should not be completely underestimated. "Some people think it’s just a cold," Bartenschlager says of the virus variant. But even if fewer people end up in hospital than with previous variants: The high infection figures outweigh that. So there could still be an overload of clinics, care could suffer. The doctors’ organization Marburger Bund recently warned of this.
Three million over 60 without vaccination
Elderly people without vaccination protection in particular – estimates still put the number at more than three million in the over-60 group – remain at risk for severe courses. "Currently, the infections are clustering among the younger people, but they’re carrying it back to the older people," says virologist Bartenschlager. What’s more, the risk of long-term effects – long covid – even with mild courses cannot yet be quantified for Omikron. That’s a factor, too. In summary, the message remains: "It’s still important to protect yourself and others," says Bartenschlager.
Omicron and the consequences
The situation, therefore, is still anything but relaxed. But there’s a diffuse sense of uncertainty that leads to indifference for some people. Certain words also play a decisive role, says psychologist Cornelia Herbert from the University of Ulm, Germany. So people often talk about the omicron wall instead of the wave. A wall is coming. On the other hand, we read about mild developments and think: It won’t be so bad.
"These are messages that trigger emotions," says Herbert. On the one hand, we process: Red alert. On the other hand: nothing will happen to me. This causes conflicts in the head, which you have to resolve for yourself. It can be difficult. The expert’s advice: You have to realize what’s behind the words.
Risk of "long covid" cannot be quantified
The "mild course" for example. A mild course can also mean three days of fever and chills, says Ralf Bartenschlager. And especially in the case of the unvaccinated, there is still the long covid risk, which cannot be precisely quantified, while new studies from Israel, for example, indicate that double vaccinated people probably no longer have a long covid.
"Long Covid can mean that you are permanently tired for perhaps months, get gasping breath at the slightest exertion, can no longer be properly concentrated, get problems with the heart," enumerates Bartenschlager.