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ANGELA MERKEL

‘We must prevent uncontrolled Covid-19 increase,’ says Merkel as rules tightened

Germany will introduce tougher measures on gatherings and mask-wearing to fight a surge in coronavirus infections, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday after a meeting with leaders of the country's 16 federal states.

'We must prevent uncontrolled Covid-19 increase,' says Merkel as rules tightened
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday night. Photo: DPA

Limits will be imposed on the numbers of people at private events if an area records more than 35 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days, and even more stringent caps if that number exceeds 50.

“I am convinced that what we do now will be decisive for how we come through this pandemic,” Merkel said after the eight-hour meeting that ended late on Wednesday night.

“We can see that … infection rates are rising and that we have a very high infection rate in some regions,” she added.

“We must therefore prevent an uncontrolled or exponential increase.”

She appealed to the population to support the measures. “Personally, I simply believe that we have the means in our hands to fight and deal with the virus,” said Merkel. “This is a huge challenge that could entail a lot for health, the economy and also for young people.”

Merkel appealed directly to the country's younger citizens, urging them to avoid parties for now.

“We must call especially on young people to do without a few parties now in order to have a good life tomorrow or the day after,” she said.

READ ALSO: Merkel calls for tougher restrictions to fight coronavirus surge

'Second lockdown closer than we want to admit'

Meanwhile, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder warned that a new lockdown could be on the horizon.

“We are actually much closer to the second lockdown than we want to admit,” he said after the meeting.

Söder said the economy and society faced “considerable damage” if the situation got worse.

Tougher measures

If an area records more than 35 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days, masks will become mandatory in all places where people have close contact for an extended period.

The number of people allowed to gather will also be limited to 25 in public and 15 in private spaces.

“We have decided on this prophylactic number of 35 because we have seen some examples of how fast the increase happens from 35 to 50,” Merkel said.

Once a threshold of 50 new infections per 100,000 is exceeded, even tougher restrictions will apply.

These include limiting private gatherings to 10 people or two households, and the closure of restaurants after 11pm.

Hotel ban a sticking point

The fraught talks lasting eight hours were intended to establish a more unified approach amid concerns that Germany's federal system is leading to a confusing patchwork of regulations.

But a particular sticking point was a ban agreed last week on domestic travellers from so-called risk zones from staying in hotels or holiday apartments.

With some state premiers seeking to overturn the ban, Merkel said talks over the subject would be postponed until after autumn school vacation on November 8th.

The Chancellor did, however, urge citizens to avoid unnecessary travel within Germany to and from areas with high coronavirus infection rates.

'We will see if it is enough'

On Wednesday Germany logged more than 5,000 new daily cases, the highest number since the peak of the crisis in April.

READ ALSO: Germany reports more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases within a day

Even more curbs could be imposed if the upwards trajectory of new infections is maintained, Merkel warned.

“We will see if what we've done today is enough,” Merkel said after Wednesday's decisions.

“That's why my worry is still not gone after today.”

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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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