Campus - 29.09.2020 - 00:00 

Daniel Koch is concerned about a liberal system

“In my opinion, we can’t do enough to prevent a second wave of the pandemic,” emphasised “Mr Corona”, Daniel Koch, at a public lecture in the Audimax at the HSG. When asked about the long term consequences of the coronavirus crisis, he voiced his concerns about out liberal system.

29. September 2020. On the second evening of lecture series entitled “After the Coronavirus Pandemic: will everything stay different?” PD Dr. Claudia Franziska talked to Daniel Koch, former head of the “Communicable Diseases” department at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). She started by commenting that thanks to the media, the Swiss have learned a lot about “Mr Corona”. People have learned that he trains with his dogs, suffers from hay fever, likes to swim in the Aare, and is incredibly resistant to the cold.

A normal person, with some rough edges

The public might indeed know a lot about him, but fortunately not everything, was Daniel Koch’s answer when asked what was still left to know about him. He rejoices in his right to keep some things private. But he was able to say this much: “I’m a completely normal person, with normal ups and downs and rough edges.”

Around mid-January, the Federal Office of Public Health was made aware that the newly-emerged respiratory disease was creating an extraordinary situation, was how he described the initial period after the spread of coronavirus came to light. Even at the end of that month, the magnitude of this disease was impossible to assess, he said. “When the death-rate spiked in Italy, it quickly became clear that the situation was serious. But we were caught off guard by the fact that many people had already been infected with the virus during visits to northern Italy, and had brought it back to Switzerland.” The pandemic was then tackled intensively at all levels.

The virus doesn’t follow a pandemic plan

Switzerland’s influenza pandemic plan has certainly fulfilled its purpose, however, continued Daniel Koch. But it was important to realise that such a plan could hardly ever be implemented 1:1. “A new virus doesn’t follow a plan”, he stressed. Believing that you can prepare for a crisis down to the last detail is an illusion. A crisis is precisely defined by the fact that – at least temporarily – a lack of resources will lead to shortages. In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, for example, this manifested itself through a lack of face masks. Precisely because a pandemic plan can’t be followed like a recipe in a cookbook, it’s all the more important to remain flexible and react quickly to unforeseen circumstances.

His comment that as the pandemic played out, it became clear that the virus did not respect national borders, led Claudia Brühweiler to raise the question of whether measures need to be urgently coordinated across national borders. Daniel Koch voiced his fear that Europe is not yet in a position to do this. However, he was convinced that it would use the time after the crisis to be better prepared for the next pandemic.

A prohibitive culture promises little success

The audience at the public lecture asked numerous questions. One question was whether the federal government should not urgently be issuing stricter and more uniform restrictions, given the rising number of cases. In Daniel Koch’s opinion, a prohibitive culture doesn’t promise to be successful. He considers it much more important to explain the problem to people and how they can contribute to the solution. The effect of educating the public is evidenced through the uptake of vaccinations, for example. Switzerland does not make vaccinations obligatory, but the rate of vaccination uptake is nevertheless good.

In his opinion, enough cannot be done to prevent a second wave. “If the number of cases rises uncontrollably, the call for harsh restrictions and bans will become extremely loud. To be honest, I am quite worried about that. Because, as human beings, we not only need to stay healthy, but we have other needs that impact social, cultural or economic life.”

There is no patented remedy for a pandemic

Unfortunately, there is no patented remedy for how to get a pandemic under control in the fastest best possible way. However, it is always necessary to weigh up the positive and negative consequences of any measure. As an example, Daniel Koch cited the situation in some developing countries, where lockdown interrupted the vaccination programme against various diseases. He was very concerned that this would result in many deaths, especially among children.

One speaker expressed her conviction that any coronavirus vaccine that might be approved next year could not possibly be safe, having not undergone several years of testing. Daniel Koch responded that he has full confidence in the regulatory authorities. They would not be put under undue pressure and would only approve a virus after sufficient testing, he said.

Look after the liberal system

The final question to the former head of the FOPH “Communicable Diseases”, was put by HSG Rector, Bernhard Ehrenzeller. It concerned the long-term consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Daniel Koch replied that it is extremely difficult to make long-term forecasts. He really hopes that the effects of the crisis will not lead to society becoming more and more nationalistic. “Our liberal system works well. I sincerely hope that we continue to look after it.”


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