WORLD: Mr. Weil, what have you been more annoyed about this week: About the ongoing disagreement between the countries in the fight against the pandemic? Or about the indiscretions that once again leaked to the public during the conference of the prime ministers with the chancellor?
Stephan Weil: The latter. In view of the situation, I consider it completely inappropriate that anything and everything from such a conference should be passed on to the outside world. It must be possible to speak openly, clearly and confidentially in such a group. If every word is punctured it won’t work.
WORLD: You referred to the participant or participants in the round who put quotes or information through to the media as “full posts”. A rather harsh tone for a round in which the country’s political elite have gathered.
Because: That may be, but in my opinion it is also a rather serious process. We are currently discussing very serious issues that are of great importance to our society.
WORLD: Do you suspect someone?
Because: No. At the end of the day, I don’t care who it was either. What I care about is the damage such meetings take from this disregard for confidentiality.
WORLD: One whose name is always mentioned in these cases is Jens Spahn. Why? Is he constantly on the phone in such meetings?
Because: We are actually all constantly active with our cell phones. Which is why I am of the opinion that at such important meetings you could ask all participants to leave their cell phones outside. In any case, it makes little sense to gather for eight hours in a tap-proof room in the Chancellery if there is regular communication with the outside world at the same time.
WORLD: At the end of the meeting, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) was then noticeably disappointed about the results. Do you share this disappointment?
Because: No. The proposed resolution that the Federal Government sent us on the way to Berlin does not differ significantly from the resolutions that we then took in the Chancellery. In this respect, the criticism that was expressed in retrospect is difficult to understand for me.
WORLD: Merkel got the people after meeting the prime minister let suggestto do more in the fight against the pandemic than the state governments tell them to do. Do you perceive this as admissible criticism or is that – measured against the customs between the federal and state governments – already excessive?
Because: Let’s take the example of curfew. We discussed whether such a curfew should be made compulsory from an incidence value of 35, or whether it should be recommended. This is really not a fundamental conflict.
48 hours later cashed but the Berlin Administrative Court even announced the curfew there for the federal capital, although the incidence value in Berlin is well over 50! That’s a real problem then, I think. So next time we’d better refrain from celebrating an outward image of disagreement if there isn’t a real reason for it.
WORLD: Do you yourself consider such a curfew to be an appropriate means of fighting a pandemic?
Because: Yes. Like all the other results of the Berlin conference, we will implement the curfew point by point in Lower Saxony and, in case of doubt, go into the necessary legal proceedings. In my opinion, it is a sufficiently confirmed experience that alcohol at a late hour in social gatherings significantly increases the risk of infection.
Closing hours are a much milder means than closing restaurants and bars. We don’t want them. And I very much hope that in the end we will not end up being forced to exactly these closings.
WORLD: The ban on accommodation is already in place in most countries off the table again, also based on court judgments. Is that a problem for you?
Because: I was very aware of the double-edged nature of this measure from the start. We only chose it because most of the other tourism countries had introduced these measures and we didn’t want Lower Saxony to become an alternative destination for holidaymakers from polluted areas.
We will now mainly talk to the municipalities in our tourist regions about how we can avoid precisely that in view of the current case law. In the meantime, however, a number of countries have said goodbye to the ban on accommodation, so the situation is different again.
WORLD: Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are now advocating that in the future, travel from inner-German risk areas will be more restricted. Would that be a path they would go with?
Because: If you have to choose between two restriction options, it can actually only be the milder means. For me, that would certainly be more of an accommodation ban than an exit ban. This week, however, we have already had several court decisions that require very precise evidence for the effectiveness of each individual infection protection measure. That will cause us problems. We are currently trying to ensure protection against infection with the mildest possible yet consistent measures.
Naturally, mild measures only achieve manageable effects. However, if that leads to these measures being collected by the courts because of precisely this manageable effect, then we automatically end up with tougher measures. Of course, they also have a stronger effect, including much greater side effects.
According to my understanding of proportionality, one should always try the milder means first, in other words: Better curfew than closed pubs and restaurants.
WORLD: Hamburg has lowered the limit for the number of participants in private celebrations to 15. Is Lower Saxony moving with you?
Because: Yes, we will be lowering that as well, based on the appointments made last week.
WORLD: The Christmas markets are likely to be canceled in view of the rapidly increasing numbers of infections, right?
Because: It is understandable, but not really feasible, that the numerous organizers who have been hit by the Corona crisis would like to have planning security now. Basically, we want to enable Christmas markets with appropriate hygiene concepts.
In the end, however, everything depends on the number of infections that we will have in December – and thus on the understanding and prudence of our citizens. We mustn’t fool ourselves. Even the toughest measures will fizzle out if there is no willingness among the population to restrict contacts on their own initiative and to behave cautiously.
WORLD: Do you actually have an explanation for the steep rise in the number of infections these days?
Because: We understand that this increase is mainly due to private gatherings. There are also special sources of risk. In western Lower Saxony, for example, these are the slaughterhouses. The risk of spreading in old people’s and nursing homes is still high once the virus has penetrated such a facility.
WORLD: How, for example, are there such exponential increases as in the city of Delmenhorst, where the incidence is now 170?
Because: There is a rather diffuse infection process there, which makes containment difficult. On the one hand, we are close to Bremen with its increased infection rates. And it is also certain gatherings that are susceptible to the spread of the virus.
WORLD: In Berlin, this applies in particular to large wedding celebrations in families with a migration background. Are you also observing this in Lower Saxony?
Because: There is that here too. Events with different religious backgrounds also repeatedly trigger significant infections. We are currently experiencing this in Lower Saxony, for example, with a Christian faith center in Bad Gandersheim, in which, despite a hygiene concept, more than 120 people were infected because they were probably singing vigorously. Basically, the more people, the higher the risk.
WORLD: Is it possible that the local authorities are not paying enough attention to these same occasions?
Because: Fortunately, we live in a state in which there is not a police officer behind every bush. Young people’s parties or larger family get-togethers do not have to be registered. We have reached our limits, but we also need support from the population.
You should talk to people without a mask or point out critical meetings to the authorities, because we are currently dealing with a situation that is about a lot.