The citizen as vicarious agent of politics

IIn epidemiology there is a strategy that is understandable for laypeople on how pandemics can be stopped. You have to isolate it at its place of origin so that it doesn’t even develop into a pandemic. Most of the countries in Southeast Asia did so when the first reports from China of a new virus came out in December last year. They cut off travel to China and tried to keep things under control from day one. This quick response had something to do with experiences from previous epidemics, where the Beijing government systematically covered up such outbreaks.

Nobody reacted in Europe: We were looking forward to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We also had no epidemiologists who advised their governments to take such drastic measures last December. In Europe, the thesis was held until spring that such travel restrictions were ineffective. This was represented not least by the Chinese government and the World Health Organization (WHO). Of course, that did not prevent Beijing later from imposing such measures itself.

The failure of our epidemiologists

Such a prevention policy would probably not have been enforceable in Europe either. The usual suspects would have immediately placed her under suspicion of racism. Even more important, especially in Germany, was concern about good trade relations with China, which would undoubtedly have seen such a policy as a diplomatic affront. After all, at this point we were trying not to get caught up in the worsening relationship between the United States and China. One could have talked about this openly last night on Anne Will’s show. For example, about the failure of our epidemiologists in December and January, who simply ignored the early reaction of the states in Southeast Asia. At that time it was also the prevailing opinion that wearing masks was a cultural peculiarity of Asians, but without any scientific evidence to prevent infection. That saved Mrs. Will’s round. Instead, it was only about one topic: the policy of radical prohibition of all social and societal activities introduced by the Chinese in Wuhan at the end of January as an epidemiological miracle weapon.

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There is a branch of science in the West that is particularly convinced of this approach. It is the theoretical epidemiologists who, with their models, view the infection process as a predictable occurrence of human behavior. The Göttingen physicist Viola Priesemann has made a name for herself as one of the most pronounced representatives of this approach. She advocates the thesis of a theoretically possible eradication of the virus by preventing all social contacts. If no one meets any more, it might not find anyone to infect. For months she has been formulating the subjunctive as an epistemiological permanent state. If in the end no one is infected, she might even be right. To put it a little more disrespectfully, it is the story of the dog, the necessity and the escaped hare. Unfortunately, there was one thing that Ms. Priesemann did not find out again: How she actually wants to prevent the dog from relieving himself in order to hunt down the rabbit instead?


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