Characteristics of measures during a pandemic
In this study each participant is asked to choose between several alternatives. Each of the alternatives contains a bundle of characteristics with different levels. All measures and consequences of the pandemic used in the study are presented below
Detailed presentation of the characteristics and levels
Excess mortality over a period of 12 months in Germany
Problem: The exact number of deaths attributable to the coronavirus cannot be determined.
Solution: The excess mortality is the difference between observed and expected deaths. It allows conclusions to be drawn about the true extent of a pandemic.
Explanation: During and after a pandemic it is difficult to determine the exact number of deaths attributable to the virus. The excess mortality rate provides information on the actual extent of the pandemic. Excess mortality is the difference between the deaths actually observed and those expected under normal circumstances in the same period of previous years. This provides an approximate picture of the actual impact of a pandemic on mortality. However, high excess mortality can also have other causes such as an increased incidence of fatal accidents or other diseases. Once the capacity limits of the healthcare system have been reached, deaths can also be due to inadequate general care. In this survey, the average excess mortality is presented for a period of 12 months. The excess mortality is given in percent and in absolute figures.
Pros and cons: The indicator of excess mortality gives an approximate idea of the deadly consequences of a pandemic. However, an increase in mortality may also be due to other causes that are not direct consequences of a viral disease.
Individual risk of infection in the next 6 months
Problem: The individual risk of infection with the coronavirus varies from person to person.
Solution: Compliance with hygiene regulations, contact restrictions and curfews reduce the risk of infection.
Explanation: The risk of infection with the corona virus can vary from person to person. It depends on the state of health, previous illnesses, age, professional activity, family situation, living situation or individual behavior. Specific measures help to reduce the risk of infection and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. These include isolating risk groups, putting potentially and actually infected persons in quarantine, closing public facilities, cancelling major events, shifting work to the home if possible, as well as curfews and contact restrictions.
Pros and cons: The individual risk of infection depends on various influencing factors such as state of health, housing situation or social behavior.
Decline in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020
Problem: The closure of stores, large and small businesses, cultural and gastronomic facilities leads to a decline in production and a drop in demand. As a result, the gross domestic product (GDP), i.e. the economic performance of a year, also declines.
Solutions: The further decline in GDP must be stopped by a fast but controlled recovery of the economy.
Explanation: The closure of entire companies, factories and stores leads to a decline in production and reduced demand. Less goods and services are produced. Depending on the duration of the closures, there may be a more or less severe decline in gross domestic product (GDP). The overall economic situation will increasingly become worse if the restrictions continue. Depending on the duration of the measures and the subsequent reduction in production, the decline in GDP can amount to 5% to 20% of a country’s economic output. This corresponds to an average loss of between €2350 and €9400 per inhabitant of the country.
Pros and cons: The decline in GDP can be reduced by quickly reopening relevant sectors of the economy. If the pandemic is not controlled, possible consequences would be an increased risk of infection, a higher number of new infections and deaths.
Decline in individual annual income in 2020
Problem: Exit and contact restrictions can lead to short-time work or unemployment. This would reduce the monthly income and also the annual income for some employees.
Solutions: Restarting businesses, industries and companies.
Explanation: Permanent output and contact restrictions lead to short-time work and rising unemployment. In addition, some workers will have to reduce their weekly working hours to ensure that their own children can be cared for in the case of daycare and school closures. This reduces the monthly income during the time of the exit and contact restrictions as well as the overall individual annual income. The decrease in annual income can be between 10% and 75% depending on the employment relationship and the duration of the measures. In order to prevent a greater decline in annual income, the country’s temporarily closed economic and industrial sectors would have to resume work and open public facilities such as daycare centers and schools. However, if the pandemic were not yet brought under control, the consequences would be an increased risk of infection, a higher number of new infections and deaths.
Pros and cons: Rising economic losses are prevented. However, a too hasty resumption of economic activity could encourage further spread of the virus.
Measures on exit restrictions
Problem: In order to ensure that the population receives medical care even in the event of a pandemic, the overburdening of the health system must be prevented.
Solutions: Exit restrictions help to minimize contacts between people and thus reduce the risk of infection. These measures can prevent a wave of infection and the uncontrolled spread of the virus.
Explanation: In order to ensure the medical care of all people during a pandemic, the health care system must not be overloaded. It must be avoided that many people become infected with the coronavirus in a short period of time. If this were the case, the healthcare system would quickly reach its capacity limits. Initial restrictions can help to prevent this. In addition to recommendations on compliance with hygiene measures and the regulation of a minimum distance between people, various measures on exit restrictions can be adopted to contain the pandemic. Curfews can mean the closing of national borders or state borders or a strict domestic curfew. This would severely restrict people’s freedom of movement. If necessary, the curfew applies for 2 weeks.
Pros and cons: Measures on curfews are intended to prevent a wave of infection in order to slow down or prevent its spread. Increasing numbers of infections and deaths can be avoided. However, long-term restrictions would result in sustainable economic and social consequences. Isolation of the population could also lead to undesirable consequences and challenges for individuals and society, such as increasing depression due to lack of social contacts and other social needs.
Measures on contact restrictions
Problem: Events in economic, public and cultural facilities can promote the spread of the virus due to high visitor numbers and close contacts between people.
Solutions: One measure to limit contacts is to set the number of visitors to public and private events at a maximum permitted level.
Explanation: Events with large numbers of visitors can accelerate the spread of the virus. Contact restrictions should prevent this. Therefore the meeting of a great number of people in a very small environment must be prevented. It would be possible to cancel events or to limit the number of visitors to a maximum permitted number. Particular attention should be paid to sporting events such as national league soccer matches as well as trade fairs and concerts with a very high number of expected visitors. However, a maximum limit can also be set for meetings with a small number of people, such as business meetings or family gatherings. Taking into account the minimum distance as well as prescribed hygiene measures, events with different maximum number of persons are conceivable. Events and other meetings can be limited to a number between 5 and 5000 persons. The contact restrictions apply for 2 weeks if necessary. A violation of the restrictions would result in the imposition of fines.
Pros and cons: A reduction of the upper limit for attendance at certain events does not necessarily mean a reduction in the number of infections, since infected persons may also attend several small events and, if minimum distances are not observed, may infect other people in their daily lives. However, a simultaneous infection of many people can be prevented by setting upper limits. Long-term restrictions on contact can have negative social and societal consequences.
Closure of facilities
Problem: Children, teenagers and young adults can become infected with the corona virus, but may remain symptom-free. They could infect other people unknowingly and contribute to the spread of the virus.
Solutions: Kindergartens, schools, vocational schools, colleges/universities, leisure and cultural facilities as well as non-system relevant businesses can be closed. Emergency care for children of parents in systemically relevant occupations is maintained. School lessons in higher school classes and teaching at universities can be carried out with the help of digital media platforms.
Explanation: Younger people, especially young children, often find it more difficult to always adhere to the prescribed hygiene measures and minimum distance. Infections in children with the coronavirus may go unnoticed. Then they could spread the virus unconsciously in kindergartens and schools. Temporary closure of childcare and educational facilities could prevent the rapid spread of the virus. In addition, many older teachers who belong to the risk group would also benefit from the closure of the facilities, as they would not have to expose themselves to an additional risk of infection. The closures do lead to reduced infection rates. However, the need for childcare at home can place an additional burden on parents. The children’s school performance could decline, though. And educationally disadvantaged children may not receive the learning support they need to maintain their skills or catch up with the skills of other children. Other facilities and businesses may also contribute to the spread of the virus, as well as fitness studios or open-plan offices, so it would make sense to close these facilities and businesses as well, unless they are systemically relevant. The restrictions apply for 2 weeks if necessary.
Pros and cons: Closing facilities can prevent the virus from spreading quickly. Continued closures, however, lead to an additional burden on parents, a drop in the level of school achievement and to economic losses for businesses and institutions.
Transmission and evaluation of personal data
Problem: Without accurate information about the spread of the virus, no specific measures can be taken to interrupt infection chains.
Solutions: The digital transmission of a person’s infection status combined with additional data on location and health provides information on the geographical spread of the virus and serves as a basis for decisions on defensive measures.
Explanation: If there is a high number of infected persons, it is difficult to trace the infection chains. The geographical spread of the virus can be analyzed with the help of real-time digital information on the infection status of people in combination with location data, health data and contact data. The infection status includes information on whether a person is infected with the virus. Health data refers to vital data such as pulse rate at rest, heart rate, body temperature or blood pressure. Contact data refers to encounters with other people. Location data show the visited places within a certain period of time. The information can be used to create a basis for decisions on specific measures to interrupt chains of infection and quickly contain the pandemic. The additional health data can also contribute to the analysis of the pandemic, e.g. providing information on symptoms of a virus infection. The data on possible contacts with infected persons also help to trace the chains of infection geographically and interrupt them with selective measures. During data transmission, the conventional national and international data protection regulations are observed.
Pros and cons: The real-time digital transmission of relevant data on the occurrence of the infection makes it easier to trace the virus and infection chains geographically. Measures can be implemented with pinpoint accuracy. The data transmission is anonymous and subject to data protection. Improper handling and storage of the data, faulty transmission or security gaps on the transporting medium increase the risk of hacker attacks and the misuse of personal information. Users may also have reservations regarding the use of the data.
Masks/ Mouth and nose protection
Problem: Even without coughing or sneezing, viruses are spread in the air through the breath, so that there is an increased risk of infection, especially in closed rooms.
Solutions: Wearing a mask can protect other people from infection and, depending on the type of mask, also offers a certain degree of self-protection.
Explanation: In order to slow down and, in the best case, to contain the spread of the virus, it is not sufficient to observe contact and exit restrictions and to set a minimum distance between persons of at least 1.5 m. Because even without coughing or sneezing, viruses are distributed in the air by droplets (aerosols) through the breath, e.g. when speaking, shouting and singing. Since many infected persons do not know that they are infected and do not have any symptoms, prophylactic wearing of a mask can break through the chains of infection and prevent new infections. Especially in situations where people come very close to each other over a long period of time, e.g. on public transport, in offices, in schools etc., the risk of infection is much higher. Particularly in closed rooms, aerosols can accumulate in the air over a longer period of time. A mask can significantly minimize the airflow, and thus the aerosols, and thus reduce the risk of infection.
Pros and cons: Infected people who do not know that they are infected and do not show any symptoms can protect their fellow human beings from infection with the corona virus by wearing a mask. However, wearing a mask can lead to people becoming more careless and no longer keeping the minimum distance. In addition, infection with the coronavirus cannot be completely ruled out by wearing a mask. Improper handling of the mask can result in the mask becoming moist with the air we breathe and losing its protective function against the corona virus. If handled properly, a mask can minimize the risk of infection, especially when closer contact with people outside the nuclear family is necessary.