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HEALTH

‘We can’t close everything down’: How should Germany tackle the pandemic in 2021?

To deal with the rising number of coronavirus infections, Germany has closed many businesses. But this isn't sustainable, says a high profile state leader.

'We can't close everything down': How should Germany tackle the pandemic in 2021?
Tables and chairs taped off at a restaurant in Hanover on November 28th. Photo: DPA

“Society and the economy will not survive another year like this,” North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier Armin Laschet, of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said in an interview with the Rheinische Post published Monday.

“We can't close down everything in the long term and the state pays billions in losses month after month,” Laschet, who is a candidate to take over as leader of the CDU and a possible successor for Merkel, said.

“A new model will be needed from the new year. Permanent closures and subsequent compensation payments will destroy the state in the long run.”

He said clever concepts needed to be developed “to provide long-term perspectives for living with the pandemic”.

Last Wednesday, Germany extended its shutdown until at least December 20th, but likely early January. Bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels, cultural and leisure facilities are closed (except for food and drink takeaway) but schools and shops can stay open.

Meanwhile, Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, said he expected major damage to the German economy despite the billions in state aid.

“The Corona crisis will leave considerable marks on the economy,” Braun told the Handelsblatt newspaper. He said that the state could help to ensure that a large number of companies survive the crisis. “But it will not be without consequences,” he said.

Braun believes another economic aid package next summer may be needed. “If necessary, we must provide new incentives,” he said.

Nevertheless, Braun is more optimistic about the course of the pandemic next year. “The pandemic will lose its horror next year,” he said.

“As a society, we have to hold out through December and the months until March, sticking to the distance, hygiene and mask rules and the reduction of our contacts. Where that is not enough, restrictions are inevitable. Then spring will come and hopefully the vaccine will be ready.”

He said that the exponential growth in the number of infections had been halted at a level that was demanding but not yet over-stretching the healthcare system. But 400 deaths per day (which Germany reported last week) were too much, he said. “That is why I would have liked to have taken more far-reaching decisions in October,” said Braun.

'Christmas won't become a nationwide superspreader event'

As The Local has been reporting, new contact restrictions come into force in December allowing only two households to meet with a maximum of five people. Germany is set to relax these contact rules over Christmas.

But the President of the German Medical Association, Klaus Reinhardt, said he did not think that easing the restrictions would cause a spike in cases.

“I consider it unlikely that Christmas will become a nationwide superspreading event,” he told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper.

If people adhere to the infection protection regulations, the temporary loosening is justifiable and even necessary for mental health reasons, he said.

Reinhardt also spoke out in favour of using coronavirus rapid tests more often. Priority should be given to health care facilities, such as retirement homes or hospitals. “Later on, it is conceivable that rapid tests could be carried out before larger events, ” he said.

On Monday Germany reported 11,169 new coronavirus infections and 125 deaths within 24 hours. This brings the total number of people who have died in connection with Covid-19 in Germany to 16,248.

A week ago the number of new cases stood at 10,864. On Sundays and Mondays, the numbers are comparatively low because, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) fewer samples are taken at the weekend and therefore fewer tests are carried out overall.

 

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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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