Merkel urges stricter German coronavirus curbs in hotspots

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday urged German regions with high coronavirus rates to tighten social contact restrictions before Christmas as the country struggled to slow a second wave of infections.

Merkel urges stricter German coronavirus curbs in hotspots
Merkel speaking in Berlin at a press conference on December 2nd. Photo: DPA

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that the government welcomed a move by Bavaria on Sunday to step up its shutdown rules in the light of still climbing outbreak numbers in hotspots.

“These are worrisome days,” Seibert said, noting that infections rates “are not consistently going down” but rather rising in some areas and that Germany was “far from turning the corner”.

“It is obvious and also necessary for individual states to think about which measures they could use to curb new infections,” he said, calling Bavaria's planned tightening from Wednesday “good and right”.

Long hailed as an example in the pandemic due to a far lower death rate
than most of its neighbours, Germany has seen its infection levels plateau at a high level for more than a month.

READ ALSO: Bavaria to move into tougher lockdown ahead of Christmas

The eastern state of Saxony, coping with its own infections spike, followed suit with an announcement it would meet Tuesday to agree stricter rules.

Seibert noted that Merkel and Germany's 16 state premiers had “specifically agreed” that regional governments could go beyond national guidelines if conditions demanded it.

Although they are not scheduled to have another meeting in that format to assess country-wide rules until January 4th, Seibert said such a meeting was possible again “at any time” in the period before Christmas if deemed

Under a so-called “lockdown light”, German cultural and sporting facilities as well as restaurants and bars have been shut since early November, with public gatherings limited but schools and shops remaining open.

Merkel and the state leaders agreed last week to extend the partial shutdown until January 10th, while still allowing certain exceptions for gatherings at Christmas and New Year.

Merkel's economy minister Peter Altmaier acknowledged that at least parts
of the country were going to need to take a tougher line.

“We can say and must say that our measures to date are insufficient to
really break the second wave,” he said in remarks reported by news agency DPA.Several officials have now called those holiday exceptions into question.

Gerald Gass, head of the association of German hospitals (DKG), warned of possible shortages in intensive care units, in comments to business daily Handelsblatt.

A woman walks through Passau's old town, where a stricter local lockdown has come into force, on Monday. Photo: DPA

More people getting together over the year-end holidays would likely “lead
to a rise in infections, with consequences for hospitals”, he said.

“On the basis of the current situation, I urgently warn against maintaining
the planned exceptions,” he said.

And the head of the parliamentary group for Merkel's Christian Democratic
Union party, Ralph Brinkhaus, said hotspots should seriously reconsider the 10-people threshold, calling it “highly risky”.

Under Germany's federal system, states are given leeway to set their own rules.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder on Sunday announced tougher measures including local curfews and partial school closures in the southern state.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) disease control centre reported 12,332 new Covid-19 infections within 24 hours on Monday, with numbers generally lower at the start of the week due to a weekend lag in reporting.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care nationwide has soared to more than 4,000 from just over 360 in early October.

READ ALSO: Will coronavirus hotspots in Germany face stricter measures at Christmas?

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German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab