German Health Minister calls on residents to avoid holiday travel amid push for stricter shutdown

German Health Minister Jens Spahn called for people in Germany to avoid travel at Christmas time, as other politicians pleaded for a strict post-holiday shutdown.

German Health Minister calls on residents to avoid holiday travel amid push for stricter shutdown
Spahn in the Bundestag on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

“For the first time since I can remember, I won’t be spending the holidays with my parents and siblings” said Spahn from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Wednesday.

“That is a great pity. But it will help keep the virus at bay.”

He spoke out against the idea that some families could meet in German states which have set more generous rules for holiday gatherings.

“Within families, Covid-19 can quickly turn dangerous,” he said. 

Currently only five people from two households are allowed to meet until January 10th, although these rules are set to be loosened between December 23rd and January 1st. Depending on the state, up to 10 people will be allowed to meet, with children under 14 exempt from the rule.

READ ALSO: Merkel says Germany 'won't get through winter' with current Covid-19 measures

Some states, such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, have narrowed their window of exception to December 24th until December 26th, whereas others such as Berlin have restricted the number of people who can gather together to five.

Some German states, including Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, are also allowing people to stay at hotels for the purpose of visiting family over the holidays. Otherwise such visits are currently banned for private purposes.

Push for stricter shutdown after holidays.

North Rhine-Westphalia's Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU) also made an appeal for using the quieter time after Christmas to enforce a stricter lockdown around Germany. 

“After Christmas, we need a real year-end lockdown in order to regain more normality for 2021,” he told DPA.

“From Christmas until the end of the holidays, the country can most likely be shutdown completely and thus effectively stop the spread of the pandemic”, stressed Laschet.

Spahn also said that the days after Christmas would be ideal to enforce a more stringent lockdown.

“I could hardly think of a better time of the year to reduce contacts,” he told told Bild.

‘It’s absolutely not necessary to shop’

Shoppers queuing for a cosmetics store in Dresden on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The German Association of Cities also said that the period following Christmas would be a good time to enforce stricter rules, with not as many people having the need to leave their homes.

Schools and Kitas are closed, many companies are shut down, and many people are on holiday, meaning “it’s absolutely not necessary to shop following Christmas,” said association leader Helmut Dedy to the Saarbrücker Zeitung.

Leopolina, Germany’s Academy for Sciences, on Tuesday called on school holidays to begin starting on December 14th, and for shops to close from December 24th until at least January 10th.

The Leopolina paper should serve as a “last and serious” warning to Germans, said virologist Christian Drosten in his “Coronavirus Update” NDR podcast. He added that there’s a great probability that the time around the holidays will lead to a spike in cases. 

READ ALSO: Scientists plead for 'hard lockdown' in Germany as fears grow over Covid-19 spike at Christmas

If no new regulations are introduced now, there is a threat of a lockdown “at the end of January and throughout February” with massive consequences for the economy, he said. 

It’s likely that Germany’s 16 state leaders will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the beginning of next week to discuss stricter measures to be enforced throughout Germany.

On Wednesday morning, Merkel made an emotional plea for tougher restrictions to bring down coronavirus infections, as the German death toll reached a grim daily record of nearly 600 people.

READ ALSO: Merkel makes emotional plea for tougher curbs as Covid-19 deaths in Germany break record

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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.