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HEALTH

Germany warns coronavirus protests ‘hijaked’ by far-right

Right-wing extremists are “completely hijacking” protests against coronavirus restrictions, the deputy head of the police union in Germany has warned.

Germany warns coronavirus protests 'hijaked' by far-right
Police form a barrier at Saturday's demonstration in Berlin. Photo: DPA

“The Corona protest movement has lost its innocence since last weekend,” Jörg Radek, the GdP’s vice-chairman, told Funke Media Group newspapers on Tuesday.

“Nobody can say they are just a follower now. Anyone who stays with the movement must ask themselves whether they want to join forces with right-wing extremists and combine personal concerns in the coronavirus crisis with the extremists' anti-democratic goals,” he said.

Around 18,000 people gathered at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate on Saturday to protest against pandemic restrictions, before the rally was forced to stop because people were not respecting social distancing measures.

READ ALSO: 'Anti-coronavirus' demonstation takes place in Berlin

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has also warned of increased anti-Semitism due to coronavirus protests and criticised German daily newspaper Bild.

“For months, conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic tendencies have been deliberately stirred up in the coronavirus debate,” Josef Schuster, the Council President, said.

Not everyone who demonstrated in Berlin on Saturday are racists or anti-Semites, Schuster added. “But they walked among them.”

Two recent protests have drawn tens of thousands from across the country to Berlin.

The demonstrations were mainly peaceful, but late on Saturday, several hundred protesters broke through barriers and a police cordon to climb the steps leading to the entrance to the Reichstag parliament building.

Following that, about 300 people were arrested in scuffles with police. 

Some protesters also waved German flags and shouted “Merkel must go!”, a chant often used by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party against Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

However, others at the rally said they attended to defend freedoms and were not extreme right-wing sympathisers.

READ ALSO: Germany warns of spike of anti-Semitism linked to coronavirus

In recent weeks there has been concern about rising numbers of coronavirus infections across Germany. Last week Merkel warned that coping with the coronavirus will become more challenging in the coming autumn and winter months. 

“In the coming months, it will now be important to keep infection rates low,” she said.

“We will have to live with this virus even longer, and that is why my basic attitude is one of vigilance, of attention […] The fact remains: it is serious, as serious as ever. Continue to take it seriously.”

 

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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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