“Error is always such a big word”
Mr. Laumann, have you made any mistakes in dealing with the corona pandemic?
Of course, some things would have been done differently with today’s knowledge. But we have always made decisions to the best of our knowledge and belief. For example, when we imposed the ban on visiting the elderly care facilities, we were not yet able to vaccinate anyone, there was not enough protective clothing for the staff. It was only known that older people in particular die from the virus. Today I have to say that was definitely the most serious cut.
Was the isolation a mistake?
People may have died there without relatives being able to say goodbye properly. This is irreparable. My mother recently died in hospital at the age of 93. I spent a lot of time sitting by her bed in the days leading up to her death. And then it crosses your mind that other people couldn’t do that with their mothers back then because you signed a certain ordinance. Error is always such a big word. I wouldn’t use it in that context. At the beginning we knew so little about Corona. There was a time when the coffins of the dead who were infected were wrapped in foil. You can see how great the fear of the unknown was.
So you wouldn’t introduce the ban on visits again?
We already lifted the regulation for Mother’s Day 2020, after a few weeks of the pandemic. Relatives could North Rhine-Westphalia back to the homes. At the time, I was sharply criticized for this by some institutions: it was crazy and irresponsible. Later I visited homes where there had been many deaths. That’s when I felt how stressful it was for the staff in the homes.
Has politics learned Corona after three years, with future ones pandemics to react better?
We have learned a lot when it comes to how to deal with Corona. But the question is which pathogen will trigger a possible next pandemic, what properties it has. After this crisis, there is at least basic knowledge: how important the health authorities are, how important protective equipment is for healthcare workers. In this pandemic it was like this: If you want fewer people to get infected, then the only way to do that is through contact restrictions. At Corona, we decided not to shut down the economy and instead to reduce contacts in other areas, in culture, gastronomy, travel and education.
You could have done it differently.
Yes, we could have reduced contacts by closing factories and leaving schools and kindergartens open. However, I believe that it is not a realistic prospect in our society to interrupt important value chains and to close central economic sectors for a long time in a pandemic.
Nevertheless, many are very critical of the school closures in retrospect.
I understand that too. But one must not forget that we have only learned over time that children usually do not get as seriously ill as adults. They usually put Corona away more easily. And the fact that they infect older people at home has not happened as often as feared. But at the time, people weren’t sure, and the school ministers felt that too: if protective measures were taken, half of the parents and teachers protested, and the other half relaxed.