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HEALTH

Pandemic will ‘keep us busy all winter’, warns Merkel

Despite the positive news about a potential vaccine, Chancellor Merkel has urged people to prepare for the difficult winter months.

Pandemic will 'keep us busy all winter', warns Merkel
Angela Merkel on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

“We have to assume that the second wave will be harder, and it mainly falls at a bad time of year,” she said at the presentation of a report by the German Council of Economic Experts in Berlin on Wednesday.

“It will keep us busy all winter,” she added. The crisis can only be overcome together, she added.

Even the positive news about the vaccine development would not change that – or be reflected this winter, Merkel stressed. Therefore, she urged people in Germany to stick to the coronavirus measures currently in place for the month of November.

READ ALSO: How close is Germany to receiving a Covid-19 vaccination?

According to the latest report from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Wednesday, 18,487 new coronavirus infections were registered nationwide within 24 hours. This is 3,155 more cases than on Tuesday. Compared to Wednesday last week, the figure is slightly higher.

Health Minister Jens Spahn had earlier said there were slight signs of improvement, but not enough to signal a trend.

READ ALSO: Germany sees 'signs of change' in coronavirus situation

Merkel also insisted on adhering to the so-called “debt brake” in the German constitution, which sets guidelines for the federal and state governments on how much new debt is allowed. The debt brake is flexible enough in the current crisis, she said. But it “must also remain the guiding principle for future years,” Merkel added, commenting on proposals to abolish the brake.

Meanwhile federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he hoped Germany would be “in an epidemiologically better situation” around Christmas and the turn of the year.

“And this can only be achieved with discipline,” the Christian Social Union (CSU) politician said. He warned that there should be no easing up on the rules currently.

“Do not underestimate the fact that many people severely ill with Covid-19 have lifelong consequential damage,” he said.

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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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