German Covid-19 situation taking ‘worrying’ turn for worse, says RKI boss

German Covid-19 situation taking 'worrying' turn for worse, says RKI boss
The head of the RKI Lothar Wieler during a press conference on Thursday. Photo: DPA
Germany's trend of new infections has taken a worrying turn, the head of its disease control agency said Thursday, as the death toll to date crossed the grim milestone of 20,000.

“The rise in numbers is worrying,” said Robert Koch Institute president Lothar Wieler, warning that after plateauing for a few weeks, “the course of infections could tip over again” into exponential growth.

Germany would have to introduce tougher curbs to break the trend, he said.

“Other measures must be considered. If (current measures) are not working, then I don't see any other possibilities.”

READ ALSO: Is Germany set for a post-Christmas full lockdown?

Wieler said people in Germany had to reduce social contacts by at least 60 percent for the situation to significantly improve.

The RKI boss said the problem is that the virus is still widespread among the population, which is pushing numbers up.

The situation in old people's homes is particularly bad. Alarmingly, there are currently almost twice as many outbreaks in these facilities than in August, Wieler said. On average, almost 20 people are affected per outbreak.

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'We are not powerless'

On Thursday, the RKI reported 23,679 cases within 24 hours in Germany – a record number. A further 440 people died during this period.

The RKI said in its Wednesday situation report that a significant increase in the number of cases had been observed in the population since December 4th.

Wieler acknowledged that people are increasingly tired of keeping to measures be it mask wearing or limiting social contacts, and that compliance was now an issue.

But the RKI president urged Germans to turn the situation around.

“We are not powerless before this virus. We have a good strategy,” he said.

Germany ordered a new round of shutdowns in November, closing cultural and leisure facilities as well as banning indoor dining.

Health officials had in mid-November credited the measures with halting exponential growth in infections.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has demanded tougher restrictions as transmissions began ticking up again after daily new infections held steady at around 20,000 for several weeks.

In a hard-hitting speech before the Bundestag on Wednesday, Merkel issued a stark warning to Germans ahead of the Christmas holiday season when families are expected to gather.

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

“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and it ends up being the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we'd really have failed,” she said.

Wieler also discussed Germany's vaccine hopes.

“We may be able to start vaccination as early as the end of 2020 or early 2021,” he said.

The Standing Vaccination Committee (STIKO) has determined that the first people to receive the vaccine will be residents in old people's homes, those over 80, staff at particular risk of exposure, as well as nursing and medical staff in facilities with vulnerable or high-risk groups.

READ ALSO: Who will receive the vaccination first – and when?


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