Predecessor of Germany’s Professor Lockdown Thinks Virus Crackdown Is an Unjustifiable Abomination
Dr. Detlev Krüger held the position Christian Drosten now occupies for 27 years until 2017
Senior Professor for Virology Detlev Krüger is the direct predecessor of the well-known German virologist Christian Drosten at the prestigeous Charité Clinic in Berlin.
Like Anthony Fauci in the U.S. and Neil Ferguson in the UK, Drosten has become Germany’s best-known scientist in the corona crisis, and is used by politicians as alibi for the unprecedented lockdown measures. Detlev Krüger was the head of Charité’s Virology Institute (now headed by Dorsten) for 27 years until 2017, and while he talks warmly of his colleagues, the professor has his own opinion about antibody tests, the lockdown and how actually dangerous the coronavirus is.
Sputniknews interviews Detlev Krüger (25. April 2020)
–Professor Krüger, we have been living in a lockdown for many weeks now. What is your preliminary conclusion – was it worth it?
It is always a trade-off between the prevention of potentially serious coronavirus infections on the one hand, and the economic, social, cultural and even health-related collateral damage, which is anything but insignificant. I don’t think we will be able to reach a verdict until later whether it was worth it. However, I still hope that if the yearly season for respiratory infections comes to an end – the flu wave has just subsided – the transmission of coronavirus will also subside. It is said that one should not compare corona and flu waves. In many ways, however, they can absolutely be compared, both in terms of how viruses are transmitted and the risk groups, but where the flu also includes pregnant women and children. And the fact is that every year we have on average more deaths from flu, at least until right now, than due to the new corona virus, at least in Germany.
–Should we lock old people away for their own protection?
I would not use the words «lock away». However, whatever one calls it; there is no legal or moral justification to deliberately curtail the rights of older citizens. I think that here too one should weigh up the possible damage from the infection and the possible damage from the measures that are currently being implemented; in hospitals, important operations, cancer treatments and many other medical measures are being postponed. At the moment, old people no longer go to the doctor because everything in the clinic is focused on corona or because they are afraid of becoming infected. Another problem is when the elderly become lonely and depressed and suicidal due to the isolation. And even the fact that many geriatric nurses from Eastern Europe are now not allowed to enter the country is a problem. All of this could lead to massive collateral damage, especially for this group, which should actually be protected. By the way, did you know the average age of the corona-dead in Germany? It is around 80. And the average life expectancy in Germany is also around 80. I find this to be an interesting aspect, which puts many measures into perspective.
–At our place grandma and grandpa have just turned 70 and are in great shape. And not only does everyone miss each other emotionally, but we as working parents actually miss the grandparents as help in the face of day-care center closures.
If the grandparents are mentally fit, they should be able to make up their own mind and not allow themselves to be restricted. It is said that the grandparents are usually not a danger to you or your children, but the other way round, you and your children are a danger to grandma and grandpa. However, if the grandparents are ready to keep to normal hygiene rules and bear this residual risk, I do not see why you should exclude the grandparents from the family for their own supposed protection.
–Again about the lockdown: it seems that the ban on major events, for example, has achieved a lot. Which prohibitions do you think make sense?
The cancellation of major events, at least in closed rooms, seems to me to be completely correct at the moment. On the other hand, I believe that the wearing of “mouth-nose protection” suddenly discovered by politicians is action for the sake of action. It should be made clear that you cannot protect yourself this way, because you continue to breathe the air around you unfiltered. There is only a certain effect here if you yourself are infected and are therefore a virus spreader. The «mouth-nose protection» pretends to give a security that it can’t provide, and it is more of a «breeding ground for germs» for various pathogens when it becomes dirty.
Apart from that, we live with respiratory infections our entire lives. We all know how to protect ourselves from this: do not sneeze and cough, do not share the same air with infected people in a poorly ventilated room, wash your hands – all the basic hygiene rules that should already be ingrained.
–In the «Heinsberg study«, which is somewhat controversial due to other circumstances and is still ongoing, professor Streeck has come to the conclusion that it is not very likely that the coronavirus will be transmitted simply by touching surfaces in supermarkets and even at home.
In the case of respiratory infections, the virus must be inhaled. Putting the contaminated hand in your mouth could lead to respiratory infection. But I think this would be a rather unlikely scenario. The main entryway is inhalation and thus the transmission from person to person via the air.
–There are innumerable theories, both about the type of virus and how to fight it. The classic is «Flatten the Curve» versus «Herd Immunity». Which do you tend to?
Herd immunity due to the spread of the virus in a broad population group, which then develops antibodies and immunity, cannot be achieved with a drastic restriction of the transmission of the virus, as we are experiencing it. So our strategy is really just about smoothing the rise in the curve. The virus will then hopefully recede in summer and then come back – genetically unchanged or mutated. We also experience this with the flu virus: it comes back in many waves because the virus regroups to attack with its genetic material and form new variants with other flu viruses. So far, this has not been the case with the coronavirus. However, the virus is highly mutable, which means that the genetic material can change slightly. We can already see this with the variants SARS, MERS or the current form, which arose in addition to the usual, more harmless coronaviruses.
–And then such a mutation can be more dangerous?
Sure, all mutations can lead to higher disease potential. A mutation can also weaken the effect. So that can go in both directions.
–And then one has to start from scratch with research?
The diagnostics are the same for similar viruses. The therapy and prophylaxis are usually the same, if there are no major genetic changes, and an existing vaccine also works. It’s just that viruses are constantly changing genetically. They are genetic material and are subject to constant evolution.
–And so this will go on for years?
The fact that we will have to live with the new coronavirus in the future is usually peddled as a threat by politicians and media. But all viruses are with us all our lives. A lot of things are suddenly presented as if it were all new territory. Naturally, the virus will likely not disappear from our environment. But there are many other dangerous and even more dangerous viruses that we have learned to live with or that we can successfully combat.
–And this virus is not more dangerous than others?
I don’t see any greater danger so far, at least in comparison with such killer viruses as Ebola or the human immunodeficiency virus. I don’t even think it’s more dangerous than certain types of the flu virus.
–Unfortunately, one can exploit corona politically. It is said that the virus could have come from a biological research laboratory. To you, does the genome look more like an artificial modification or a natural mutation?
All the rumors that someone has created an evil virus I believe are nonsense, given the current state of knowledge. This has always been the case in history when new dangerous viruses appeared: When HIV first appeared in the 1980s, it was also claimed that it was produced in some dark laboratory. I don’t believe in such conspiracy theories. I believe that the transmission from animals to humans and then the close coexistence of humans and the rapid genetic mutability of viruses play a very important role in the spread. No sinister labs are required for this. The world’s leading coronavirus researchers made a statement about this a few weeks ago.
–What about the cases of re-infection after recovery?
This has been reported several times. Personally, I don’t think that is out of the question, because it is not yet known how long immunity lasts after a SARS-CoV-2 infection. Personally, I suspect that in people who develop a mild or even symptom-free illness – and there are obviously a great many – the virus only infected the upper respiratory tract, i.e. the throat, and, similar to a cold virus, did not cause long-lasting generalized immunity. That would explain a new infection after recovery.
–So you really have to go through it the hard way, with pneumonia, to get a longer lasting immunity?
If I’m right in my guess – yes. If someone became seriously ill from the virus infection, then they would clearly be more immune afterwards. Except, of course, if the patient has a massively weakened immune system.
–Do you also expect that from the antibody tests?
Yes, I think that’s very important. The point is to see epidemiologically what percentage of the population is already infected and secondly to see what percentage are already immune to the virus. But it’s not that easy.
We have had coronaviruses in our environment for a long time. It is estimated that coronaviruses make up about fifteen percent of our respiratory infections every year. So we have – to a greater or lesser extent – already formed antibodies against these viruses. The antibody tests must not only detect all relevant infections, but also make a precise distinction between infections with the new coronavirus and the related, more harmless coronaviruses. Then you can use it to examine the infection rate of the new coronavirus in the population.
If you also want to determine protective immunity, another problem is that not every antibody that is directed against a virus also can neutralize it. Only the so-called neutralizing antibodies can do this, and these should definitely also be recorded by the antibody tests for the new coronavirus.
A good test must be able to do both. But there is – to advertise for my successor Christian Drosten – a very nice scientific work from a Dutch-German-French cooperation, which will be published soon, where such specific tests actually were developed.
–Since you mention Mr. Drosten: Up until two months ago hardly any citizen knew a virologist by name, now most know at least two. It certainly flatters your profession, but isn’t it something – let’s say breathtaking – about how virologists suddenly become decision-makers and the greatest influencers behind the scene on the government?
First of all, if you ask me personally about Mr. Drosten, I have to say that hardly anyone – even internationally – has such scientific creativity and expertise in relation to corona viruses as Mr. Drosten. I personally think that so many overlapping factors play a role in society as a whole, that of course decisions have to be made on a much broader basis from the most diverse areas of science and society as a whole, rather than just on the advice of individual virologists. So, to stay on the topic of medicine, I would also bring more experts on infectious and intensive care on board here. And we have just learned that legal practitioners and pathologists can also provide extremely important insights.
In the discussion of the problem, one must say that the tone has become rougher.
The tone has become rougher from everyone, also because there is, I believe, a great deal of fear and ignorance among the population, which is not always relieved by the constant media reports, but perhaps even stoked in some places. This is dangerous, because this overall mood can lead to mistakes.
Detlev Krüger, born in 1950, studied medicine in East Berlin, under professor Hans-Alfred Rosenthal. In 1981 he received his degree in the field of virology and molecular genetics. In 1982 he received the Rudolf Virchow Prize and in 1984 the Carl Correns Medal. From 1989 to 2016 he worked as a professor and director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité Clinic in Berlin, the most prestigious hospital in Germany. Since then he has been a senior professor. Krüger’s successor at the Institute of Virology since 2016 is Christian Drosten.