“What makes me cautiously optimistic is the fact that the number of cases is currently no longer rising so steeply,” RKI chief Lothar Wieler said at a press conference on Thursday.
“The curve is flattening,” he added. However, the incidence of infections is still increasing practically all over Germany and the situation remains serious, he said.
The reasons for the flattening of the curve are still unclear, according to the RKI. It is possible that the stricter measures imposed for the month of November are beginning to take effect.
It is also possible, however, that laboratory capacities are exhausted and that the number is therefore no longer rising strongly. “We do not yet know whether this is a stable development,” said Wieler.
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“But this shows we are not helpless against this virus” and that restrictions such as social distancing and mask wearing can help halt the march of Covid-19, he said.
'We must prevent the situation from deteriorating'
On Thursday Germany reported 21,866 new infections over the last 24 hours, according to RKI data. This is around 3,400 more new infections than the day before, when almost 18,500 new cases of infection were recorded.
But the key reproduction figure has fallen below 1 to 0.89, meaning that 100 people are infecting 89 others – a sign that the new cases are falling.
While new infections might be starting to slow, the Robert Koch Institute chief said the situation could worsen in the coming weeks in hospitals, which may “reach their limits”.
A sign urging people to wear a mask in Erfurt, Thuringia. Photo: DPA
“We must prevent the situation from deteriorating,” he said, stressing Germany's aim is to bring infection numbers down to a level that the healthcare system can cope with.
Wieler urged Germans to keep social contacts to a minimum, saying the measures would still be necessary even if there is a vaccine because it will take time to roll out the jabs.
'A long time'
Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to hold a new round of talks with regional leaders of Germany's 16 states on Monday to take stock of the situation and examine if the restrictions should be maintained or toughened.
Taking questions during a citizens' dialogue, Merkel told a Bavarian hotel manager that if people behaved “reasonably,… we might have a chance” of slowly re-opening in December.
But the veteran leader has also begun managing Germans' expectations for Christmas, saying that she could foresee small family gatherings but no lavish parties.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said it was clear that the Christmas festive season would be accompanied by restrictions.
The virus “takes a long time to brake,” he told regional radio RBB.
“Even if we managed to bring the numbers down now, it doesn't mean that people can just get going everywhere again in December or January.”
“Partying over Christmas like nothing is going on won't work,” he warned.
For the Health Minister, parties with more than 10 people this winter are not on if Germany wants to keep the pandemic under control.
With an eye on rising infections in schools, several German states have mooted the idea of lengthening the Christmas vacation to keep the population home and break the chain of transmission.
Merkel has warned that only when 60 to 70 percent of the population has achieved immunity can Covid-19 be deemed to have been “more or less overcome”.