Lothar Wieler leaves the Robert Koch Institute – Politics

The head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, is resigning from his post. The RKI in Berlin announced that he would hand over his tasks on April 1st. This is happening “at his own request”, Wieler wants to turn more to research and teaching again. The 61-year-old microbiologist has headed the RKI since March 2015. With the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, he became one of the most prominent faces of the crisis.

At the peak of the corona pandemic, Wieler provided weekly information about the virus, first alongside the then Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU), and later alongside his successor Karl Lauterbach (SPD). It was “a privilege” to have worked in such an exposed position during the crisis, the outgoing RKI boss said in writing. During his tenure, however, Wieler also struggled with the public role that was unusual for a scientist: he repeatedly complained about what he saw as inappropriate media reporting on the pandemic – for example when tensions between him and his superiors Spahn and later Lauterbach were reported. In addition, Wieler and his family became the target of abuse and threats, not only on the Internet.

What exactly Wieler will do in the future was not announced on Wednesday. His successor at the head of the RKI has not yet been clarified either. His previous deputy, Lars Schaade, will head the institute for a transitional phase. Lothar Wieler “acquired outstanding merits” during the pandemic, said Federal Minister of Health Lauterbach. He regrets the withdrawal. Without Wieler “Germany would have come through this pandemic much worse”.

In the fight against corona, Wieler always stood for a course of caution, pleaded for a mask requirement and distance requirements. Wieler defended his convictions with verve, also to the ministers superior to him: It happened in the summer of 2021 to a public dissent with the then Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, when he advocated that the incidence values ​​- i.e. the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days – be given less importance than before. There were also upheavals with the successor Lauterbach: When at the beginning of 2022 the classification of those who had recovered was shortened overnight due to a communication breakdown and many thousands of people in Germany no longer fulfilled the 3G status, Lauterbach and Wieler pushed themselves blame each other.

Wieler’s farewell comes at a time when numerous experts have already declared the pandemic over and protective measures are being lifted. There is still dissent about the Corona policy: Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann (FDP) calls for an end to the mask requirement in long-distance transport. Karl Lauterbach rejected this request: It could be that the mask requirement would be abolished before April, Lauterbach said star. At the moment it is “still too early”.

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