With Johanna Haberer, the Bavarian Ethics Council has a member who may have had a feel for the needs of people in the Corona crisis. The theology professor, trained pastor and journalist sits on the supervisory board of the Augustinum Group, which owns 24 retirement homes, a clinic, schools and facilities for the disabled. Until her retirement, she also headed the department of Christian journalism at the theological faculty of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Corona has lost its greatest terror, but that’s exactly why it’s time to take a look back, she says.
SZ: Ms. Haberer, the Ethics Council was set up in October 2020 when Corona was already in full swing. You should advise the politicians. How big did you feel the burden of responsibility?
Johanna Haberer: However, the burden was great. One of my nightmares was the idea that there might be a mass death in the retirement homes. That happened in some homes in Germany. I am also on the supervisory board of the Augustinum Group, which looks after 7,500 elderly people throughout Germany. I don’t think any of the managers at these facilities have slept well over the past few years. In the Council itself we had a wide range of attitudes. In the statements, however, we managed to take a forward-looking view without getting involved in polarization.
The Ethics Council received little public attention. There was a lot of press coverage when the philosopher and business informatics specialist was kicked out Christoph Lütge, who had rejected the corona restrictions as completely excessive.
We were not consulted on this. We then wrote a letter to the cabinet saying that this certainly did not strengthen us in public. We were less concerned with the loss of that person or opinion. It was clear after the first few sessions that there were hairline cracks. But that could have been clarified in discourse.
The Ethics Council was then considered by some to be the Markus Söder Streamline Committee. Is that him?
No. But the Bavarian Ethics Council – unlike the German Ethics Council – has only very limited options. Our job is to advise Prime Minister Markus Söder and the cabinet. We tried to influence the government constructively. The state government has taken up our idea of summer schools, where children can catch up on what they have missed. However, the way the courses were set up, they were quite an administrative monster. After all, our proposals are public. They are not censored either. Everyone can read what we recommended and compare what came of it.
The Ethics Council called for a review of the pandemic policy relatively early on: a congress with representatives from all camps that also strives for reconciliation, and a task force that prepares decisions for future crises.
None of this has been implemented. But it’s still not too late. I think such a public debate at a congress would be important. The health threat has diminished. Now some are claiming: “We’ve always said we don’t need vaccination or masks, finally someone understands.” However, such a short-lived triumphant statement overlooks the fact that the situation has changed. In the beginning there was no vaccination and the worry that a lot of people could die. It would be important to go over it again. Did you make the right decision under those conditions? How could people have been protected without the state being perceived as an overwhelming power factor that simply governs? Because that was what some of the population felt, and rightly so. In Bavaria in particular, the state has intervened massively in people’s private spheres.
You mean the curfews, the school closures, the exclusion of the unvaccinated or the ban on reading alone on the park bench?
Yes, there were many moments when the life of the individual was severely affected. You can’t leave that undiscussed.
Have you regretted a recommendation yourself? For example, the Ethics Council has also spoken out in favor of general vaccination as a last resort.
I am very clear on this medical question: In an emergency, I would also recommend compulsory vaccination. But what I would no longer recommend, or would only recommend in extreme emergencies, is to close schools. The youth have paid too high a price.
The opposition in Bavaria is also demanding a review of the Corona policy. The CSU wants to tick off the topic…
Our term of office expires in the fall. In May there will be another meeting with Prime Minister Söder and some members of the cabinet. I hope that we can set a scent mark there again. It is obvious that this is necessary.