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LATEST: German Health Minister tests positive for coronavirus

According to the Ministry of Health in Berlin, Jens Spahn, of the Christian Democrats (CDU) tested positive for the virus early Wednesday afternoon.

LATEST: German Health Minister tests positive for coronavirus
Jens Spahn at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Immediately afterwards he went into domestic isolation, a Health Ministry report said. 

“So far he has only developed cold symptoms. All contact persons will be kept informed,” it read. However, it did not provide any information on how Spahn might have been infected. 

READ ALSO: How and where coronavirus cases are rising in Germany

Photos show that Spahn attended a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning at the Chancellor's Office, but he was wearing a face mask. 

A government spokesperson later said that cabinet members would not have to go into quarantine, as social distancing and hygiene measures continued to be maintained. 

Spahn has been lauded for his calm handling of the virus crisis, and was once seen as a contender to take over as chancellor when Merkel stands down next year.

Spahn has welcomed stronger restrictions imposed by some states in Germany as the country tries to curb a second wave of Covid-19.

The Alpine district of Berchtesgaden in southern Germany, a beauty spot popular with tourists, on Tuesday became the first area to return to strict lockdown since the height of the pandemic earlier this year.

Last week, Germany reported its highest number of new virus cases in a single day as numbers surged across Europe.

On Wednesday Germany exceeded the coronavirus critical value of more than 50 infections per 100,000 residents in seven days on Wednesday. 

The current value on Wednesday afternoon stood at 51.3, up from 48.6 on Tuesday, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

READ ALSO: 'There's a danger of Covid-19 getting out of control in Germany': Bavaria orders tougher measures

Recently, top politicians had to quarantine themselves because of encounters with those who tested positive for the virus. 

On Saturday German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier also went into self-isolation following a positive coronavirus test from his bodyguard. Two tests at the head of state have since been negative.

On Monday Labour Minister Hubertus Heil of the Social Democrats (SDP) also went into quarantine because of a warning he received on Germany’s Corona-Warn-App.

At the end of September, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) and Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) also temporarily isolated themselves, after one of Maas’ bodyguard’s was infected.

As a precautionary measure, Altmaier went into quarantine after an EU minister who was present with him at an EU Council meeting in Berlin tested positive.

Back in March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went into quarantine after her doctor tested positive for the coronavirus. However, the Chancellor confirmed she was not infected following two negative test results.

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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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