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ANGELA MERKEL

Coronavirus pandemic not over, warns Merkel as Germany’s states devise own plans

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany has a better grip on the pandemic but warned that people must remain careful and vigilant.

Coronavirus pandemic not over, warns Merkel as Germany's states devise own plans
Angela Merkel on May 27th. Photo: DPA

Merkel spoke out after a meeting with the heads of government of eastern German states in Berlin on Wednesday, May 27th.

Merkel said that “we are still at the start of the pandemic” while there is no vaccine or treatment for coronavirus, However, she added: “We have gained better control.”

The Chancellor thanked people in Germany for sticking to rules but said it was still necessary to be “very careful and very observant”, adding that coronavirus infections can spread quickly if not kept in check.

EXPLAINED: What to know about Germany's new social distancing measures

It comes after the German government announced on Tuesday May 26th that social distancing measures, including the 1.5 metre required distance from others, would be extended to June 29th.

States go their own way

Germany's regions, which have already been putting together their own plans out of lockdown, have been tasked with monitoring the virus in their part of the country.

Under Germany's federalist system, the 16 regional states have far more leeway to set policy than in more centrally governed countries such as Britain and France.

However, Merkel acknowledged the team work between the government and states.

“The fact that the federal and state governments worked together during the crisis has contributed significantly to the success in overcoming the crisis so far,” said Merkel.

“I can tell you that the federal government is of course following the situation very closely,” Merkel added.

Merkel steered the country well in the crisis to date, but now it was up to the states to carry on the job, said Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller who was also at the press conference.

'Ambiguous'

Some states – including Thuringia and Saxony – have announced they will soon get rid of coronavirus lockdown measures.

When asked by a reporter whether the Thuringia decision was a topic at the regional conference Merkel said she was “very much in agreement” that everyone was working within their own areas of responsibility.

However, she said Thuringia state premier Bodo Ramelow's messages were “somewhat ambiguous”. She added that the minimum 1.5 metre distance requirement was, to her mind, “an obligation” rather than guidance because it protects other people.

Ramelow had said it made “no sense” to maintain crisis measures put in place to stem the spread of coronavirus when half of the districts in his state hadn't reported any new infections in the last three weeks.

Merkel added that states would be supported and there was a better overview of the intensive care bed situation throughout Germany.

Merkel announced that she would “continue to look at the development of the coronavirus pandemic alongside the states.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Germany – which restrictions are changing from May 25th?

Merkel's next meeting with the state premiers is scheduled for June 17th.

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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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