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Relaxing coronavirus measures in Germany had ‘consequences’, says top health institute

Loosening measures to stem the spread of coronavirus has not been “without consequences,” said Robert Koch Institute (RKI) head Lothar Wieler at a press conference on Tuesday.

Relaxing coronavirus measures in Germany had 'consequences', says top health institute
Wieler speaking at a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Wieler referred to the 'Lockerungen' – or loosening of measures which Germany had put in place, such as ordering many non-essential businesses to temporarily close, and sealing off state and national borders.

Since the end of April, the country and its 16 states have been progressively repealing these measures.

But now, following two major coronavirus outbreaks in the past weeks, the reproduction rate in Germany is growing, and now stands at 2.76. Virologists hammer the importance of keeping it below 1. 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has grown by 503 in the last 24 hours, according to the RKI, bringing the total number to 190,862 as of Tuesday. 

In the last 24 hours, a further 10 people have died from the disease, out of a total of 8,895 deaths from the virus.

Still “no new cases were registered in 137 districts in the last few days,” said Wieler. 

“There is no reason to treat the severity of the disease differently than at the beginning,” he said, pointing out that there are many older people in Germany who remain at risk. 

“The pandemic is not over”

On Tuesday authorities ordered a local lockdown for the entire district of Gütersloh, in North-Rhine-Westphalia, after a coronavirus outbreak at a meat processing plant led to over 1,500 of the 7,000 workers to be infected.

READ ALSO: Germany orders first local lockdown after coronavirus outbreak

Wieler suspects a combination of different causes for the outbreak at this slaughterhouse and others. On the one hand, he said, cramped housing conditions for the workers played a big role.

But also the low temperatures as well as the easier formation of aerosols can cause the virus to spread rapidly.

“We must remain vigilant to prevent further outbreaks,” Wieler warned, pointing out that the virus would take every opportunity to spread further. “The pandemic is not over.”

Still, Wieler said that he was “very optimistic” that a second wave of corona infections in Germany could be avoided. 

German residents are now very familiar with hygiene and social distancing measures, he said, and are more likely to take the necessary precautions this time around.

“This lies in our hand, in our responsibility,” he said.

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

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