Corona: fact check: school closures on the advice of science?

For Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD), it was a mistake from today's perspective to close schools and daycare centers for so long and to such a large extent during the corona pandemic.

Corona: fact check: school closures on the advice of science?

For Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD), it was a mistake from today's perspective to close schools and daycare centers for so long and to such a large extent during the corona pandemic. He also found a scapegoat: experts from science and research who advised the federal government at the time.


"Back then, science was in Germany: the schools had to be closed because there were transmissions," said Lauterbach in the ARD "Morgenmagazin" earlier this week. The scientists would have advised the federal government.


A daring thesis.


It is true that at the beginning of the corona pandemic, little was known about the transmission paths of the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen. For this reason, politicians initially introduced very rigorous measures to contain the spread. In the first corona waves, schools and daycare centers were sometimes closed for months.

It is quickly and largely certain that children only very rarely contract Covid-19. But the extent to which they posed a risk of transmission without symptoms is one of the most discussed topics at the beginning of the pandemic. And when it comes to schools and daycare centers, there was no uniform scientific point of view at the time, but - depending on the medical discipline - different points of view.

The President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, recently made it clear: "We have always made recommendations that could have allowed schools and daycare centers to run, albeit with effort." There was never only one alternative: either a few deaths or keeping schools open, he said in a "Zeit" interview at the end of January. It was the task of politics to take economic, social and psychological aspects into account in addition to epidemiological ones.

As early as the autumn of the first Corona year 2020, the RKI said: Educational institutions have a role in the infection process. At the same time, schools and day-care centers are crucial for the development, education and socialization of children and young people and for parents' employment. "It is important to keep these facilities open by adhering to hygiene concepts."

Even before most schools and day-care centers close across Germany in mid-March 2020, researchers such as the virologist Ulrike Protzer from the Technical University and the Helmholtz Center Munich explain restrictively: "School closures can make sense if hygiene measures cannot be guaranteed."

At that time, for example, the German Society for Hospital Hygiene (DGKH) called for schools and daycare centers to be organized in such a way that children and young people learned to implement hygiene rules. The specialist in infectious diseases and DGKH spokesman Peter Walger says: "It's not worth closing schools."

The Berlin Charité virologist Christian Drosten, who is repeatedly held personally responsible for the federal government’s corona policy by various protagonists, sees measures in schools and day care centers differentiated at an early stage.

One day after most federal states decided to close schools for the first time, he says in the NDR podcast "Coronavirus Update" from March 13, 2020: There are "of course uncertainties, also from a scientific point of view". Politicians should adapt decisions "to local conditions" - "also with people who are familiar with schools, with social structures and so on." In addition to virologists, experts from other disciplines should also be consulted.

Later in the year, Drosten made it clear again: "In mid-March, the scientific side, to which I belonged, did not recommend closing the schools." Rather, a regional approach was recommended, said the virologist on September 15, 2020.

In May 2020, the German Academy for Child and Adolescent Medicine and the Professional Association of Paediatricians, among others, are calling for the unrestricted reopening of kindergartens and schools. The protection of teachers, educators and parents as well as hygiene rules do not stand in the way of this, according to the paper by the scientists. Teaching even in complete classes is possible if children do not meet with other classes during the break.

Lauterbach - at that time still involved in important decisions as an SPD health expert in the government with the Union - rejected this far-reaching demand of the medical specialist societies: The pediatricians meant it very well. Unfortunately, it is wrong that children are of little importance for the pandemic, he writes on Twitter.

After the summer holidays in August 2020, the statement of a commission, which includes Drosten and other virologists such as Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, Sandra Ciesek and Melanie Brinkmann, says: “We support every measure that serves the purpose of making schools and educational institutions in the next winter season open." This is essential for the well-being of the children. There should be pragmatic concepts to reduce the risk of infection spreading in schools.

It can be said: The strict demand for a large-scale closure of daycare centers and schools by scientific advisors to the federal government cannot be found. The corresponding decision was ultimately made at the political level.

The then Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) once summed up the relationship between politics and research: Scientific findings about the corona virus could change over time - "we have to live with that," she said at the end of April 2020. Decisions on the other hand, it would have to be made politically, taking into account the findings of various disciplines and weighing up different interests.

All information on the dpa fact checks Contact page for the dpa fact check team