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HEALTH

Germany announces economic measures to slow ‘corona-crisis’

Germany has agreed measures to boost its sputtering economy in the face of the fast-spreading coronavirus, while also calling for the cancellation of large events.

Germany announces economic measures to slow 'corona-crisis'
A sign at a car show in Koblenz at the weekend offers visitors the chance to disinfect their hands. Photo: DPA

As the number of cases in Germany pushed beyond 1,000, Health Minister Jens Spahn said gatherings of more than 1,000 people should be scrapped.

“After many discussions with those responsible, I emphatically encourage the cancellation of events with more than 1,000 participants until further notice,” he wrote on Twitter.

Acknowledging the financial hit to organisers of such events in Europe's biggest economy, Spahn said the government would help cushion the blow.

But he also appealed to individuals to “consider what is so important in your daily life that you cannot miss in the next two to three months – be it a visit to the club, a birthday party among family members or an association
meeting.”

Germany has over the last week scrapped several huge fairs, including Berlin's travel fest ITB, industrial show Hannover Messe and the Leipzig book fair.

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But Spahn's latest recommendation could lead to the postponement of many more events, including Bundesliga football matches and rock concerts.

German Football League chief Christian Seifert warned however that “the season must end by mid-May” in order for promotion and relegation clubs to be determined and to give participants in international competitions time to prepare.

'Comprehensive' help

With measures taken to halt the virus hitting the economy hard, leaders of Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition agreed on new aid measures after late-night talks.

The coalition “is taking action in the corona-crisis. Besides medical protection measures, we have agreed on a big aid package for the German economy,” tweeted Markus Söder, leader of Merkel's Bavarian allies CSU, calling the package “comprehensive”.

Rules governing compensation for workers forced to cut working hours because of the crisis will be eased, said the government in a statement after late-night talks.

The relaxed criteria will apply from April and will be valid up to the end of the year.

The government also pledged to draw up proposals on offering liquidity support for companies hardest hit by the impact of the outbreak.

Talks with key representatives of the German economy as well as trade unions will be held shortly on the proposals.

Separately, the government said it will also boost investments by €3.1 billion per year between 2021 and 2024.

The total hike in investments totalling €12.4 billion will be entirely funded by 2019's budget surplus.

READ ALSO: Recruitment freeze and home office: How coronavirus is affecting offices in Germany

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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