Coronavirus outbreak in Germany is ‘under control’, says Health Minister

The coronavirus epidemic in Germany is "again under control" thanks to a month of lockdown imposed after an early surge in cases, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday, adding that the country would make tens of million of masks a month from August.

Coronavirus outbreak in Germany is 'under control', says Health Minister
German Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks during a press conference with the head of the Robert Koch Institute. Photo: AFP

The restrictions to keep people home “was successful,” Spahn told reporters in Berlin. “The infection numbers have sunk significantly, especially the relative day-by-day number. The outbreak is today again under control.”

“We have managed to bring the dynamic growth back to a linear growth,” said Spahn. 
The minister said it is “encouraging” that since April 12th, there are more people reported to have recovered every day than there are new infections.
As of Friday morning at 9 am, there had been 137,698 confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Of those, there were 4,052 official deaths and 77,000 reported recoveries.

Spahn also said that German companies will make tens of millions of masks per week from August including 10 million meeting the FFP2 protective standard and 40 million  surgical masks.

“We were able to award contracts to some 50 companies which want to produce 10 million FFP2 masks and 40 million surgical masks from August,” Spahn told reporters.

But so far Germany has not aped neighbouring Austria by introducing a  nationwide requirement for people to wear masks in public, issuing only a  “strong recommendation”.

Defending the decision to hold off a mask requirement, Spahn said people had been “very responsible” so far.

But eastern state Saxony will be the first to impose masks on public transport and shops from Monday, regional premier Michael Kretschmer said Friday.

'We'll see whether this is stable'

According to figures published by disease control agency Robert Koch Institute (RKI) late Thursday, the person-to-person infection rate has dropped to 0.7.

The infection rate is a key indicator for politicians as they calibrate Germany's gradual steps out of the lockdown that has seen schools and most businesses closed to slow the virus' spread.

“We will see whether this is stable,” said RKI president Lothar Wieler, adding that the disease was not  “eradicated”, and new infections could continue to occur.

The figures justified a first easing of the lockdown with a review after two or three weeks, Merkel said, while warning that there was “little margin for error” and that “caution should be the watchword, not over-confidence”.

From Monday, shops up to 800 square metres will be allowed to reopen if they uphold hygiene rules, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Germany to begin easing coronavirus curbs in coming weeks

And schools are set to begin reopening from May 4th, with priority given to pupils soon taking exams.

Meanwhile rules will remain in force preventing groups of more than two people from gathering in public, other than family groups who live together, while large public events remain banned until August 31st.

Regional leaders have made their own tweaks to the centrally-agreed rules, with Bavarian leader Markus Söder arguing to retain tough restrictions while North Rhine-Westphalia premier Armin Laschet pushes to loosen even faster.

Polls show much of the public stands behind strict infection control, but business is pushing hard for a dependable roadmap for exiting lockdown.

Some companies, like car giant Volkswagen, have already announced their own step-by-step plans for reactivating production in Germany in the coming weeks.

Preparations to reopen factories included “a comprehensive catalogue of measures to protect workers' health”, Volkswagen brand chief operating officer Ralf Brandstaetter said Wednesday.



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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.