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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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.