US President Biden now claims in an interview that the pandemic is over. We spoke to experts about what’s behind the statement – and why it might even be dangerous.
In the USA, almost 400 people died in one week as a result of corona disease. Over 400,000 people have been infected with the virus in the past seven days. And yet President Joe Biden claimed Thursday, “The pandemic is over.”
The United States still had “a problem with Covid,” he admitted in a TV interview broadcast on Sunday evening. Among other things, he visited an auto show in the state of Michigan. But: “As you can see, nobody wears a mask here. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape. So I think the situation is changing and I think this is a perfect example of that.”
The claim of the 79-year-old seems questionable. Again and again, the US President makes a name for himself with hasty statements, which then have to be captured by his employees. Most recently, for example, with his assurance of assistance to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. We asked experts what they think of his pandemic forecast.
“A pandemic is defined as a sharp increase in a very large geographical area, i.e. in more than one country, often worldwide,” virologist Friedemann Weber defines the term. “Even if there were no more outbreaks in the USA, a politician could not claim something like that as long as the virus was still raging in other countries,” he emphasized when asked by FOCUS online.
Friedemann Weber is a professor of virology and director of the corresponding institute at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. There he researches, among other things, corona and influenza viruses.
Although one can “roughly speak of an endemic situation” in the USA, Biden probably wanted to express that. “However, there seems to be an increase right now,” he warns. He would therefore not be so brave as to claim that the pandemic is over for the USA so shortly before winter. Especially since the current number of deaths is not insignificant.”
“The circumstances of his statement and the reference to the current situation during the auto show suggest that it was more of a spontaneous statement and not a CDC-approved statement,” agrees epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs when asked by FOCUS online.
Timo Ulrichs is a specialist in microbiology and infection epidemiologist. He works at the Institute for Global Health as a program director for international emergency and disaster relief. He also worked as a consultant at the Federal Ministry of Health, where he was responsible, among other things, for epidemic protection and influenza pandemic planning.
We are currently in the late phase of the pandemic – “but we do not yet have enough herd immunity, not even in the USA, to survive the pandemic wave in autumn and winter in the northern hemisphere without further measures.”
In this respect, such statements are “not helpful”, they reduce the willingness of the population to support a possibly necessary tightening of the measures. “Mr. Söder’s statement that he does not want to wear a mask at the Oktoberfest is similarly problematic,” he also adds.
Virologist Weber put it even more directly. He would like to say to the US President: “Dear Mr. President, we all want to get back to normal, but please do not communicate that the pandemic is over.” The USA currently has 2.5 million active corona cases, this one The number is likely to increase in the coming months. “It’s important that people don’t become careless because they think the pandemic is over.”
“We now have a good test run for ‘back to normal’”, adds statistician Katharina Schüller, “because the Oktoberfest has started”. We also asked the data expert what she thought of Biden’s statement. She emphasizes to FOCUS online: “The number of cases is currently increasing again in the global north. And the number of cases in the USA, but also in Germany and other countries, is just as high as in September 2020.” And that, although there are currently far fewer tests than a year ago. The number of unreported cases should be correspondingly high.
Katharina Schüller is board member of the German Statistical Society as well as managing director and founder of the company “Stat-up”. The statistician has already developed risk modeling software for the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and worked with Kary Mullis, who received the Nobel Prize for discovering PCR (the biochemical basis of corona tests). Together with other statistics experts, she publishes the “Unstatistic of the Month” to classify current statistics. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has been campaigning for representative corona tests and started a petition for this.
Unlike Weber and Ulrichs, she is not quite as critical of Biden’s statement. She says: “If we don’t see a significantly greater percentage increase in severe cases in three weeks than last year, then I see no reason to speak of a pandemic anymore. “
Based on her forecasts, she considers a short-term doubling to tripling of the incidence nationwide to be realistic. “If we’re not way over there, I’ll go with Biden.”
“It’s becoming increasingly important that we clearly distinguish between infection and disease when we talk about the pandemic,” emphasizes virologist Weber. At the moment, neither the virus pandemic nor the Covid-19 pandemic is over. “But thanks to vaccinations, residual measures and advances in therapy, the number of severe Covid-19 cases in industrialized countries will decrease over the long term.”
First of all, however, winter will come, “and then we will almost certainly see increases in the disease as well”. Apart from that, there will always be countries with larger outbreaks, and new virus variants could also cause us difficulties again. However, there will no longer be a situation like that in winter 2020/2021.
“From a scientific point of view, the pandemic as such is only over when there are no more outbreaks worldwide, and this point in time cannot be predicted,” he sums up. “Politically, however, it will certainly be declared over sooner in some countries.”