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HEALTH

‘Think of elderly relatives’: Merkel appeals to young people and warns of tougher Covid restrictions in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued an emotional appeal Friday and warned that coronavirus hotspots in Germany will be given 10 days to tackle their rising numbers before tougher action is taken.

'Think of elderly relatives': Merkel appeals to young people and warns of tougher Covid restrictions in Germany
Angela Merkel on Friday. Photo: DPA

As coronavirus numbers continue to rise, Merkel held an emergency conference call with the mayors of 11 of Germany's largest cities: Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart.

“We all sense that the big cities, the urban areas, are now the arena where we will see if we can keep the pandemic under control in Germany as we have  done for months, or if we lose control,” Merkel said after the talks.

“The coming days and weeks will decide how Germany gets through the pandemic this winter.”

READ ALSO: Coronavirus second wave: Why the party is over in Germany's cities

'Think about what is important to you'

Merkel urged Germans to stick to the well-known rules of mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

She also asked the population to use the country's coronavirus warning app and regularly air out rooms as colder weather approaches and people spend more time indoors.

The veteran chancellor said she understood that measures such as earlier closing hours and curbs on alcohol sales would hit the struggling food and hospitality sector hard.

But she said her goal was to avoid the kind of harsh lockdowns that brought Europe's top economy to a standstill in the spring and kept millions of children home from school and daycare.

She also issued a direct appeal to young people, who have been seen as driving the current spike in infections, urging them to think of the health of elderly relatives and also of their own job and education prospects.

“Think about what is most important to you,” she said. “Isn't it the health of your family, your grandparents? Isn't it, also in the next few years, to have good training and work opportunities,” the chancellor asked the young population.

“It will all come back: partying, having fun,” she said. “But what matters now is something else.

“We have proven that we can stick together against all this. And we must continue to do so.”

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany's Covid-19 internal travel restrictions

Tougher measures to curb the spread

Capital Berlin and financial hub Frankfurt both joined a growing list of high-risk zones on Germany's map this week, after crossing the threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.

Among the new measures that kick in once that level is reached are wider mask requirements, including outdoors in busy areas, as well as earlier closing hours for bars and restaurants and limits on alcohol sales and group sizes, Merkel and the mayors agreed.

READ ALSO: These are Berlin's new coronavirus restrictions

Merkel said past experience had shown it takes “about 10 days” to see if such efforts succeed in slowing the outbreak.

If the infection rate does not stabilise in that time, “further targeted restrictions are unavoidable in order to further reduce public contacts”, according to the text agreed at the talks.

The goal is to keep the number of infections within a range where it is possible to trace the infection chains.

To help do that, it was also agreed that from an incidence rate of 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a week, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) would send experts to crisis teams to help affected large cities. At the request of cities, the Bundeswehr (German army) will also be drafted in to advise and coordinate the support services required.

Germany, long seen as having managed the pandemic better than most European countries, is on heightened alert after the number of new daily cases spiked from 2,828 on Wednesday to just over 4,000 cases on Thursday – the highest daily figure since early April.

The country's RKI for disease control warned that the virus could “spread uncontrollably” if people let their guard down. On Friday, the RKI reported 4,516 new 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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