Christian Drosten has today stated that the COVID pandemic is over, and the virus is now endemic. That has led, rather predictably, to the demand that all Corona protection measures be lifted in Germany – FDP Justice Minister Buschmann was the swiftest to make this demand today.
But that COVID is now endemic does not mean the virus has gone away, and cannot simply mean a return to the old normal. That does also then not mean that all measures should be dropped, and might indeed mean we need to think longer term about changes to how we behave and the quality of the air we breathe.
Most importantly the danger of COVID to an individual that has an underlying condition – is immune suppressed for example – has not disappeared. Removal of all measures poses a very real threat to people who have, for example, recovered from cancer, or have been struggling to recover from long COVID and cannot afford to risk an infection again. And when humans come together in enclosed spaces – like in a train for example – there is a limit to what an individual can do to protect only themselves if those around them are not taking any measures. The CO2 parts per million reading shown here was taken on a train in Poland this summer – and had there been a super spreader in that carriage we’d all have possibly fallen ill.
So here is a proposal for a way forward: wear-a-mask zones in public transport, especially long distance trains.
We have all sorts of zones in trains already – quiet zones, family zones, areas you can speak on your phone. Why not add a wear-a-mask zone? Anyone who themselves is vulnerable would choose to sit there. And anyone who is responsible towards others, and is willing to make a small contribution to everyone feeling safe, would mask up and sit there too. I’m personally not high risk, but I am keen enough to not get COVID again that I would happily put on a FFP2 mask and sit in the wear-a-mask zone. And then passengers who want to behave however they wish without a mask can choose to sit somewhere else. And given there are doors between carriages, that is enough of a barrier between the zones. Those who still take the COVID risk seriously can protect themselves, and those who instead strive for a return to normality can do so – without causing danger to the vulnerable.
I am not sure whether this policy would really work in other public transport – in planes or long distance buses would it make sense to have wear-a-mask rows perhaps? That might offer a little protection if the person right next to you happened to be infected? And perhaps some wear-a-mask sitting areas on ferries. But I cannot see how to apply it in metros, trams or city buses – but there at least journeys should be shorter. But at the very least in long distance trains – given the reasonably simple implementation – it ought to be worth doing.