During the pandemic, Germany closed schools on a wider scale and for a longer duration than most other places in the civilised world. I was recently reminded of how our government came to embrace these extreme policies. The story is very revealing:
It began with the strange decision of state media to elevate Christian Drosten at Berlin Charité to national prominence, by granting him the Coronavirus Update podcast on 26 February 2020. The WHO had just endorsed lockdowns two days before, and various countries were acquiring new Corona tsars – random virus wizards who would become the face of containment policy to panicking domestic audiences. Every day, Drosten’s banal podcast interviews were reported breathlessly across the German media, as if they meant anything.
It’s important to remember that Drosten is a virologist. He’s not a statistician, and for what it’s worth, he’s not a public health expert either. He studies how very small proteins work and how they interact with human cells. Nevertheless, Drosten had (or claimed to have) a wide range of opinions on matters outside of his field, including the question of whether closing schools would slow down SARS-2.
At first, Drosten said that he didn’t think this would accomplish very much. Like everyone else of his ilk, he had an early history of saying basically correct and sensible things before he went crazy. On 11 March 2020, he went home and read this paper on Nonpharmaceutical Interventions Implemented by US Cities During the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic. It wasn’t his field; his assessment of its analysis is worth no more than mine or yours. But after reading it, he decided that actually closing schools would be a great idea, especially when used in combination with other interventions, such as banning mass gatherings. This was wind in the sails of hystericists like Markus Söder, minister president of Bavaria. And so we closed our schools, and our kids endured months of social isolation and mental anguish, because Drosten read a thing and had a brilliant idea.