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Germany ‘can and will’ avoid second coronavirus lockdown as economy rebounds

Germany is in a V-shaped economic recovery as it bounces back more strongly than expected from the effects of the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy minister said Tuesday.

Germany 'can and will' avoid second coronavirus lockdown as economy rebounds
Economy minister Peter Altmeier (CDU) holds a graph projecting econonic growth in Germany in 2020 and 2021. Photo: DPA

German GDP is expected to fall 5.8 percent in 2020, a narrower recession
than the 6.3 percent drop projected earlier, Peter Altmaier said, signalling
that the country is emerging from the worst of the crisis.

Altmaier said Germany “can and will” avoid lockdowns like Germans lived
through in March and April.

“Rising infection rates will be countered by targeted and regionally limited measures, so that the economic recovery can continue to develop gradually in the coming months,” he said.

READ ALSO: German economy should recover from coronavirus pandemic 'by end of next year or 2022'

The country, which has been more resistent to the pandemic than many of its
neighbours, reported nearly 1,250 new cases of COVID-19 per day on average
over the last week, compared with an average of less than 500 in July and
August, and is starting to tighten restrictions again.

Last week, the government announced a minimum fine of €50 for
anyone caught without a face mask in places where wearing one is compulsory, a
ban on large events until the end of the year and new quarantine rules for
travellers returning from regions with high case rates.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former scientist, has won plaudits and seen her
approval ratings soar for her handling of the virus, but last week said coping
with the outbreak will become more challenging in the coming months.

More than 9,000 people have died with COVID-19 in Germany since the first
detected case in January, a lower rate than other major countries in Europe
that lived through tougher lockdowns.

It tallies with Germany's considerably better economic outlook.

France, for example, is expected to see its economy shrink 10.6 percent by the end of 2020, Spain 10.9 percent and Italy 11.2 percent, according to EU statistics.

Road to recovery'

Altmaier said Europe's largest economy was experiencing “an unfortunately strong slump but then an unexpectedly fast recovery”.

Before a press conference, the minister even showed off a printed V-shaped chart for assembled photographers to highlight the bounce back.

The German economy slumped 9.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020, the
“sharpest decline since quarterly GDP calculations for Germany began in 1970,”
the federal statistics agency Destatis said previously.

However, the “low point of the recession” passed in May, according to the economy ministry.

Recent surveys have already shown an improvement in business sentiment in the country.

Meanwhile enemployment was stable for the third-straight month, at 6.4 percent in July, the German labour agency said in statistics published Tuesday.

Last week, the Ifo Institute said its monthly barometer of business confidence showed that companies were growing more and more positive about the
economic situation, after the index plummeted to record lows in April.

“The German economy is on the road to recovery,” Ifo President Clemens Fuest said of the data.

German Purchasing Managers' indices, another measure, have also shown
expansionary trends since July.

The German economy is expected to grow 4.4 percent in 2021, although
pre-crisis GDP levels will not be seen again until 2022, the economy ministry
said.

READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a second lockdown amid rise in coronavirus cases?

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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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