Cologne’s health department head: “Closing the vaccination center was a serious mistake”

Mr. Rau, when will the next home game of 1. FC Köln be in front of a full crowd?
Harald Rau: Not before full ranks this year. We all fear that the wave will have a dynamic that, despite the best vaccination advances, will probably reach into January or February. So my prediction is that we won’t see full ranks again until March, April. Tends to be later.

The pictures from the stands have generated a lot of criticism. Who allowed the game to take place in front of almost 50,000 fans?

The current NRW Corona Protection Ordinance has meant that the stadium could be almost fully occupied, 2G had already been introduced by FC. Under the conditions, the game could take place. But that was associated with anxiety for us. We know the soccer game increases the contact density and the likelihood of infections. On the other hand, people also want to live.

That tears you apart. Over the course of Saturday the warning voices grew louder and louder across Germany, for example from our Federal President. Also because more and more was known about the virus variant Omikron. That is why we introduced the requirement to wear masks on the spectator seats at short notice. Ultimately, the game took place after talks between the health department, FC and the state health ministry.

Possibly no football games in front of thousands of spectators until well into spring, does that mean you are expecting increasing incidences by then?

Politicians have decided to no longer consider incidences as the decisive factor, but rather the hospitalization rate in hospitals. I am convinced that the hospitalization rate will develop significantly poorly and that it will continue into February at least. Even if the incidence fell now.

What is the current situation in Cologne’s hospitals?

On Monday we received an ordinance from the State Ministry of Health on the organization of inpatient Covid treatment. When you read this, the drama becomes clear. The hospitals are instructed to keep their capacities free for those affected by Covid beyond their own local needs. This means that we are already required to keep capacities free for Bavaria and other affected regions. As of now, 20 percent of the intensive care places are to be reserved for Covid patients. Here in Cologne, too, the personnel situation is dramatic.

We don’t all have beds in the company because we don’t have the appropriate staff. There are redundancies, some positions cannot be filled again. I can’t give you any figures, but what I hear from the hospitals is that some of the nurses no longer want to work in hospitals at all. You feel burned out and not valued enough. Some also report feeling threatened to infect themselves. Every second ventilated intensive care patient dies. The nursing staff invest a lot of heart and soul, and the situation on the wards is extremely psychological.

What is the general pandemic situation in Cologne like?

The situation in Cologne cannot be compared with the Bavarian or Saxon situation. The wave comes from the southeast over Germany and will be even more dramatic. So it is to be feared. At the moment, the sheer numbers of Cologne are not yet alarming in a Germany-wide comparison, both in terms of intensive care beds and incidence.

However, we have such a high daily incidence of infections – around 800 new cases per day – that it overwhelms our follow-up and contact. So the situation is threatening. We are currently creating perfect conditions for the virus. The infection rate is high, the virus can implant itself in the vaccinated person, mutate there and develop variants that may bypass the vaccination protection. It’s extremely dangerous. We will not be spared from this in Cologne either.

You are alluding to Omikron. Has this mutation already been detected in Cologne?


What restrictions do you expect from the Prime Minister’s Conference on Thursday?

I am assuming that soccer and sports stadiums will be limited in terms of capacity utilization and that contact reductions in the leisure area will be intensified and, if necessary, the 2G obligation will be extended to more areas of life.

Do you expect schools and daycare centers to be closed?

The revised Infection Protection Act rules that out. I experience politics and many representatives from education in such a way that they say that the social damage for children is so great that we no longer want it. But nothing should never be excluded these days. New constellations, virus mutations and dynamics are conceivable that we have no idea of ​​today.

But at the moment I believe that closings of schools and daycare centers are neither politically enforceable nor technically advisable. That is why it is so important that we take maximum protective measures there, vaccinate and test a lot and take measures seamlessly in the event of infections. Always in the knowledge that, as a rule, it is not the children themselves who are affected by the severe course of the disease, but they do carry it further.

In the health department there have recently been several difficulties with data transmission to the State Center for Health (LZG). Is the office overwhelmed?

Fortunately, 54 members of the Bundeswehr are supporting us. We already had more than 1000 employees compared to the usual 350. But we gradually cut them over the summer. Now we’re back to employing as many people as possible. But this is a process and we are not yet in a position to cope with these 800 new infections per day and the search for contact persons on the day of the positive report, for example.

During the data transfer there was a problem with the interface to the LZG. This was also the case with other cities in the past, so it is not just a problem in Cologne, as the analyzes have clearly shown. Now we hope that this will not happen again.

Vaccination is considered the silver bullet out of the pandemic. Was it a mistake to close the vaccination center in the mess?

Yes. That is where the tragedy begins for me. We had an excellently functioning vaccination center at the fair with 6000 vaccinations daily and a very, very positive response. That was an absolute success model. Unfortunately, despite our intervention – including my own – the country has decided to close the vaccination centers. It wasn’t advice, it was an order. I found that to be a serious mistake.

How did the country justify that?

Not at all. But running the vaccination center was expensive. Most of the money for this was made available to us by the state. Therefore, the country can also close the vaccination centers. It annoys me because, with the unanimous expert forecasts, we knew that a fourth wave was coming. I think there were too many decision-makers who had a false confidence in the flattening values ​​over the summer and hoped that we would be spared the fourth wave.

It was clear to many – including us – that this would not be the case. But there is also a right aspect. We, including the country, want to get closer to the people with the vaccination. That is why we also need many smaller, decentralized vaccination centers.

How would you like to create more vaccination capacity?

We are planning to expand our offer at short notice so that you can get there by car, but also as a pedestrian or cyclist. We hope to have more than 2000 vaccinations a day. We have increased our mobile vaccination teams from two to three and soon to five a day, who vaccinate, for example, in community offices. Many clubs approach us and offer to vaccinate them during certain events.

However, we have limited resources and have to pay attention to efficiency so that we can vaccinate many as quickly as possible. We want 15,000 vaccinations a day. The city is committed to 5000, but the other 10,000 are to be vaccinated by doctors in the practices. They are now at 8500 daily, so relatively close to this goal. We are very grateful for the doctors’ commitment.

Do you advocate compulsory vaccination?

I was against it for a long time. The hardcore anti-vaccination opponents with their conspiracy narratives would have felt that the vaccination requirement was underpinning their crude ideas. But we are now in a situation where we still don’t reach enough people. Unvaccinated people not only endanger themselves massively, but also the freedom of all of us.

If we have to re-enter significant restrictions because a part cannot be vaccinated, then that is a danger to society. In a democracy it is still the case that the freedom of the individual ends where the freedom of others is curtailed. That is why I consider compulsory vaccination to be the right thing to do. But I wonder how it should actually be implemented.

2G-Plus and 3G in the workplace require high test capacities. Are we fed up with it?

We already had a capacity of 90,000 tests a day and never experienced a load. We currently have a capacity of around 66,000 per day. In the past few days, the utilization has increased drastically, so that these 66,000 are also necessary. Therefore we will commission further test centers if necessary.

Why is the fourth wave stronger than the waves before?

The delta variant of the virus and also possible new variants are very infectious. And then I think that the great success of the vaccination – by which I mean not only the number of people vaccinated, but also the high effectiveness of the vaccines – may make many people feel too safe. That overlaps: We vaccinate, there was the viral summer lull in the pandemic. That made the irrational hope that we can go this fall with Christmas markets, carnivals, sports. That made us all too careless as a society.

11.11. had no significant impact, the city says. Some don’t believe that.

It was to be expected that it would have an impact. But how do we actually see this reflected in the infection process? We evaluated and compared a lot of data, and that’s where I come to the conclusion: The big driver of infection was 11/11. not. I stick to it, and I see it differently than Karl Lauterbach (SPD health expert, d. Red.), Who can show me his statistics, then we can talk about it. With 11.11. it’s like the FC game. I hated to agree at all.

Infectiously, it would have been better to forego carnival, Christmas markets and soccer games. But when we consider it, we would rather have a controlled, large-scale event that takes place largely outdoors than less or even uncontrolled events indoors. The main occurrence of the infection dynamics is in closed rooms.

Source: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger – Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger by

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