Did the German Robert Koch Institute act on its own when it announced that the convalescent status would be reduced from six to three months? No, says the health minister. Meanwhile, science is criticizing the RKI decision.
Since the about-face of leading politicians in the general obligation to vaccinate, there has hardly been a corona measure that has been discussed as controversially in Germany as the reduction of the convalescent status.
Citizens on January 15 the Website of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) visited, found that the recovered status had been reduced overnight from six to three months – and many unvaccinated infected people were largely excluded from public life without warning and a transitional period. Apart from shops for daily needs, most facilities in Germany are only open to those who have been vaccinated or have just recovered.
In addition, the new definition stipulated that the date on which the positive test was taken must be at least 28 days before proof of recovery can be issued. This means that someone in Germany can only be considered recovered for a maximum of 62 days.
Lauterbach is in favor of shortening the matter
Criticism quickly arose – of the decision itself, but also of the way it was communicated. Before the federal press conference on Friday, Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach renewed his assessment, which he had previously made several times, that the announcement made without prior notice on the RKI’s side was a communication breakdown.
At the technical level, he was informed about the decision in the matter and also supported it. After all, those who have recovered should be able to rely on the fact that they are not infecting others, especially in view of the highly contagious omicron variant. Therefore, a conservative course that limits the status to three months makes sense. However, he was not aware that the new rule would be published at such an early stage, he said and promised a better communication process for the future.
When asked by journalists whether the head of the RKI, Lothar Wieler, had acted on his own authority and had become intolerable as the head of the authority, Lauterbach denied. Wieler himself remained tight-lipped in the conference and did not comment on the process. A query from the NZZ to the RKI as to whether the minister should have been informed was unanswered, with reference to the press conference.
However, it can be assumed that the RKI has an obligation to inform the superior Federal Ministry of Health, because Lauterbach emphasized that he should have informed the federal states about the new regulation. In the person of Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff, for example, they had actually criticized this.
RKI decision is not legally objectionable
From a purely legal point of view, the current decision of the RKI is not objectionable. On January 13, the Bundestag approved the ordinance presented by the federal government to amend the “Covid-19 Protective Measures Exception Ordinance” and the “Coronavirus Entry Ordinance”. The next day, the Federal Council unanimously gave the go-ahead. The RKI was thus authorized, unlike before, to define independently and with legislative effect under which conditions someone can be considered recovered.
There is a certain tension that the German Foreign Ministry had approved an EU agreement on Tuesday of this week, according to which travel within the Union is assumed to be valid for six months for the convalescent status. It follows that Germans who have lost their convalescent status are allowed to vacation abroad, for example, while hotels and restaurants remain closed to them in Germany. Lauterbach announced on Wednesday that he wanted to change the EU definition in terms of German shortening.
Criticism from science of Lauterbach and RKI
Meanwhile, criticism from scientists of the RKI definition is growing. According to the homepage, this refers to the German Standing Vaccination Commission, which recommends a booster vaccination after an infection at least three months later. Studies from Great Britain are also cited. On this basis, the RKI assumes that unvaccinated people who have undergone an infection have reduced and temporally even more limited protection against renewed infection with the omicron variant compared to the delta variant.
Not all experts are convinced. The Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology, Carsten Watzl, contradicted Lauterbach and the RKI on Thursday. “If you say that Omikron has changed the rules, then it has also changed the rules for the vaccinated,” says the immunologist. “Someone who has ‘only’ had two vaccinations is just as bad after three months in terms of an infection with omicron as someone who has ‘only’ recovered.”
The virologist Hendrik Streeck, who is a member of the Federal Government’s Corona Expert Council, also sees no reason not to equate those who have recovered with those who have been vaccinated. Initial studies showed that past infections also protected against omicron infection.
Assessments and decisions by the RKI are not being criticized for the first time. At the beginning of the pandemic, Wieler, head of the authorities, said that the flu was worse than Corona. A little later, the RKI assigned masks as a protective measure against infection with the virus a mere placebo effect.