Cassandra’s dream

Mortality progression in 2018 and 2020 and average progression for 2016 – 2019 – graphs superimposed

Brandenburg an der Havel, 8 December 2020

In the context of a demonstration by the self-proclaimed “lateral thinkers” yesterday, somebody triumphantly thrust a page with a graph at me and demanded an explanation.

I have no idea whether he knows Cassandra. She was the seeress of antique mythology who warned against the Trojan horse, a possible ambush and the destruction of the city. As usual, she was laughed down and ignored. Troy was taken and perished. If people had listened to her – the eternal nag – things would have turned out differently.

The graph on that page showed the superimposed mortality progressions of 2018 and 2020 and the average curves for 2016 – 2019. It was obvious that more people died in Germany in the spring of 2018 compared to 2020. Correct: in 2018 we had an unusually severe flu wave, and there was no lockdown for that. So are they right in saying that Corona is less severe than influenza, and all this ado is just alarmism and conspiracy?

As with all facts that appear contradictory at a first glance, I am free to decide whether to take a second glance and time to consider, or to “think laterally and crosswise”.

The Federal Statistical Office has the same graph, in some more detail. The figures are the same. Each spring there is a peak in the mortality curve. A closer look, however, shows a notable increase in 2020 which exactly matches the illustrated progression of the Corona pandemic. And now, in autumn, in the second wave, mortality rates are clearly higher but – still – not alarming. Does this mean that Corona is – somehow – here but not all that bad?

Fortunately, Corona is not a mass killer disease such as plague and cholera, and not highly contagious like smallpox. There are other major causes of morbidity and mortality which we need to keep in sight. But we keep using seatbelts, for example, although less people die in road accidents than from heart attacks.

And most importantly: if the house next door is on fire, and the fire fighters save my home, do I say afterwards their efforts were not really necessary? We see in our neighbouring countries and in the US how Corona kills and can paralyse health systems, and how even young and healthy people who survive Corona suffer lasting adverse effects, also in Germany. Across Europe, we register a higher increase in deaths compared to the flu epidemic of 2018 for the spring and again the autumn of 2020. The overall situation in Germany is less alarming than in the US or Italy, which shows that containment measures are effective – not only against Corona but also influenza.

So: Cassandra was not ignored, Troy was not taken.

Let us carry on! If the man from the protest march can show me a similar paper and ask the same question at the end of the pandemic, then all of us as a solidly united society have accomplished something great!

Prof. Markus Deckert, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Psychology

(Addendum 11 December 2020: When the above text was written statistics showed a slight reduction in infection rates which subsequently was not confirmed; infection rates are rising nationwide. It is therefore less probable that excess mortality due to CoVID-19 remains low in Germany. We can and must do everything in our power to keep it as low as possible.

For now and during the holidays: stay at home, and stay healthy!)


Background: Facts against Corona myths
Starting November, demonstrations against Corona-related measures have been organised in Brandenburg an der Havel every Monday. At the same time, counter-protest is forming on a broad basis. Resistance against the weekly demonstrations is growing, and MHB students and staff regularly present facts to refute Corona myths. The “Brandenburg initiative of medical students for prevention and solidarity” with a total of ca. 180 supporters met last Monday to send a signal against the Corona protesters and stand up for solidarity and knowledge obtained through science. The regional newspaper Märkische Allgemeine carried a report. Prof. Markus Deckert, dean of the MHB Faculty of Medicine and Psychology, attended the event.