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HEALTH

‘It shouldn’t be a lonely Christmas’: Merkel urges Germans to help bring Covid-19 spread under control

Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the tough coronavirus measures that came into force on Monday.

'It shouldn't be a lonely Christmas': Merkel urges Germans to help bring Covid-19 spread under control
Angela Merkel on Monday. Photo: DPA

“We must not allow the spread of the virus to overwhelm our health authorities.” said Merkel in a press conference. “The virus punishes half-heartedness.”

Merkel pleaded with people in Germany to help achieve a “turnaround” in the fight against the worsening pandemic.

“We are dependent on the cooperation, acceptance and understanding of the people in our country for this to work. It's in everyone's own hands to make this November a joint success, a turnaround,” she told reporters in Berlin.

“We're a society with a large number of elderly people. And that's why as a society, together, we need to find the right answers.”

Germany has in recent days registered record numbers of new coronavirus infections, prompting a new round of restrictions in Europe's top economy.

Restaurants, bars and leisure facilities will be closed from November 2nd to November 30th.

Schools, daycares and shops will remain open, however, this month in what German media have dubbed a “lockdown light”, which contrasts with tougher stay-at-home orders in other European countries.

READ ALSO: What closes and what stays open during Germany's shutdown?

“If we succeed in slowing the spread of the virus then we will be able to create the preconditions for a bearable December,” Merkel said.

Looking ahead to the festive season, she ruled out any “lavish New Year's Eve parties”. But she held out hope that families would be allowed to celebrate Christmas together.

“It will be a Christmas under corona conditions but it should not be a lonely Christmas,” the veteran leader said.

Merkel suggested keeping the gatherings small and for people to consider going into “pre-quarantine for a few days” before meeting up with elderly relatives to reduce the risks.

“If we all behave very sensibly in November, we can allow ourselves more freedom over Christmas,” she added.

READ ALSO: 'Four long months': Germany faces hard winter, warns Merkel

'The light at the end of the tunnel is a long way off'

Merkel said politicians thought hard about the measures.

Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

“We have long weighed up whether there is a better or milder way. But we have not seen it,” she said. “That is why we have decided on these arrangements, with a heavy heart.”

Merkel explained that in many cases it was already impossible for health authorities to trace contacts after an infection is reported.

Germany had, therefore, to get back into a situation where authorities could trace contacts again, Merkel said. Otherwise exponential growth would continue to increase.

The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care has doubled from just over 1,000 people 10 days ago to just over 2,000 now, Merkel said.

The goal of the newest restrictions is to break the momentum of the outbreak.

Merkel referred to the current infection figures in Germany. The average number of Covid cases per 100,000 people in seven days is 127.8, she said. However, an incidence value of less than 50 per 100,000 inhabitants must be reached again.

“People are of course a little disappointed that it (the pandemic) has lasted so long,” said Merkel.

Autumn had come with great force, and the winter months were long,” she added. “The light at the end of the tunnel is still a long way off. I can understand the displeasure, but I must still campaign for acceptance because we have no other choice.”

Merkel said she believed in the power of reason and responsibility in a democracy, adding: “It is a test unlike anything we have experienced since the Second World War,” the Chancellor said.

“That means four weeks of giving up many things that make life beautiful,” added Merkel. Many people were careful in spring, she said, and this was how the pandemic was brought under control. “That will be more difficult in the winter months,” said Merkel – if only because there is a lot more going on indoors.

Merkel also asked for the understanding of restaurants, bars and other facilities which now have to close down because of the measures. “Nobody will be left alone with their loss of revenues,” she said.

READ ALSO: Germany enters month-long partial lockdown

Germany on Monday added another 12,097 Covid-19 cases, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 545,027 cases. A total of 10,530 people have died so far.

The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care has doubled from just over 1,000 people 10 days ago to just over 2,000 now, Merkel said.

The goal of the newest restrictions is to break the momentum of the outbreak so that contact tracers can once again keep up with the chain of infections, she added.

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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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