“If we don't manage to sustainably and effectively reduce contact between people over a matter of weeks, then it is possible we will have up to 10 million cases within two to three months,” said RKI president Lothar Wieler at a press conference.
He added that the RKI would use anonymised mobile phone data provided by Deutsche Telekom to check whether the public were keeping to the new measures.
The current measures are extremely important now that Germany is still at the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak, added Wieler. He expressed hope that “a vaccine would realistically be available by 2021.”
“We are at the beginning of an epidemic that will continue for many weeks and months in our country,” he said.
The assessment came as Germany grappled with 9,919 confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and 26 deaths as of Wednesday at 12am, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the RKI.
Germany will relieve coronavirus pressure on hospitals by converting spaces like hotels, rehabilitation centres and public halls into spaces for treating people with milder symptoms, federal and states governments said Wednesday.
The measures “can build up additional capacity for the numerous simpler treatments… freeing up hospitals to deal with the more serious cases,” officials said in a statement.
In addition, the number of intensive care beds in hospitals is set to be doubled.
On Tuesday, the RKI had raised its assessment for the coronavirus in Germany to a “high” level – giving a “very high” rating to areas such as Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia – and said that the number of serious cases was rising.
On Wednesday, Germany's statutory health insurance companies stated that they would cover all costs incurred in the medical fight against the coronavirus pandemic – by dipping into their reserves and receiving federal funds if necessary.
On Wednesday evening, Chancellor Angela Merkel is to give her first televised speech urging people to heed to government recommendations to stay home, after Europe's biggest economy announced sweeping new measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Growing number of patients
Hospitals need to quickly prepare for a growing number of seriously ill patients, said RKI Director Lothar Wieler on Tuesday.
“We expect all hospitals to at least double their intensive care capacities,” said Wieler.
The new emergency plan says that Germany's 16 states should work closely with their respective hospitals with the goal of doubling intensive care capacities “by building up provisional intensive care capacities.”
According to these plans, additional bed and treatment capacities must be built up at other hospitals and, if necessary, at “temporary additional locations” in order to relieve the burden on hospitals.
According to Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU), there are currently 28,000 intensive care beds in Germany, of which 25,000 have ventilation options.
These are needed for those who show the most serious of symptoms, as is known to occur when the disease reaches the lungs.
Spahn wrote last week to hospitals in Germany urging them to prepare for the growing pandemic, saying they should try and draft in retired workers and medical students for help.
With reporting from AFP.