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HEALTH

‘Four long months’: Germany faces hard winter, warns Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday defended tough new shutdown measures her government has announced in the Covid-19 fight, while also warning against "lies and disinformation".

'Four long months': Germany faces hard winter, warns Merkel
Angela Merkel in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

The popular Merkel called on Germans to rally behind her in respecting the restrictions, and to reject those who refused to follow the established science in combatting the spread of the disease.

In her Bundestag speech on Thursday, Merkel said: “We are in a dramatic situation that affects us all. Without exception.”

On Wednesday Merkel and state leaders agreed on a shutdown across Germany to take place from November 2nd until the end of the month. It will see the closures of restaurants and leisure facilities but schools and shops will remain open.

Merkel said health authorities in Germany are already overburdened by the Covid-19 spread, and that 75 percent of infections can no longer be traced.

READ ALSO:

If the increase in cases continues at this rate, intensive care wards would soon be overburdened, said the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) politician. The tough new measures being adopted are therefore “appropriate, necessary and proportionate”.

The aim is to have a “systematic reduction of contacts” in the population, said Merkel. Health workers need to be able to trace the chains of infection. That's the only way the risk of outbreaks can be reduced, she said.

'The pandemic will end'

Merkel said the pandemic is putting society to the test, in medical, political, economic and social terms.

Germany would only be able to meet this challenge with cohesion and a willingness to support each other.

Only “with and for each other” could Germany get through “this historical crisis”, said Merkel. “The winter will be hard. Four long, hard months. But it will end.” 

The Chancellor praised the work of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control and reminded her audience to use the coronavirus app.

Merkel showed understanding for restaurant, bar, hotel and cafe workers who are concerned about the renewed closures: “I understand the frustration, indeed the desperation, especially in these areas, very much.”

Many restaurant bosses have drawn up hygiene and safety plans, and were now wondering whether all this had been pointless, she said. However, these concepts would soon be needed again, Merkel stressed.

'Lies and disinformation damage debate'

Merkel warned that propaganda and conspiracy theories undermine the fight against the pandemic.

“Let me be clear: lies and disinformation, conspiracy and hatred damage not only democratic debate but also the fight against the coronavirus,” she told the lower house of parliament.

The Chancellor was interrupted during her speech by heckling from far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party members. It prompted a rare intervention from speaker of the house Wolfgang Schäuble, who threatened unruly MPs with penalties.

Germany came through the first phase of the pandemic better than most of its neighbours, with the total number of deaths now at just over 10,000 in the European Union's most populous country.

But it has been rocked by a series of often large demonstrations against government measures to tame the virus, with activists from the political fringe accusing Merkel of exploiting the pandemic for a power grab.

Merkel pushed back hard against such claims, calling populism “not only unrealistic but also irresponsible”.

“The things that have been proved wrong by science must be called out,” she said.

Merkel is at the height of her popularity as her fourth and final term in office comes to a close next year.

“Freedom does not mean that everyone does what they want, but that everyone has a responsibility,” she said.

In her statement, Merkel also referred to the dramatic situation in other EU countries, which are struggling with a rapid increase in new infections. However, the Chancellor emphasised that Europe is better prepared this time than it was in spring to keep the restrictions on the European internal market as low as possible.

Merkel's Bundestag speech is the third since the beginning of the pandemic. It was followed by a 90 minute debate between political parties.

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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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