Tough coronavirus measures in Germany expected for most of winter

Angela Merkel's chief of staff has given a glimpse of how – and when – Germany might get out of its latest lockdown.

Tough coronavirus measures in Germany expected for most of winter
Pupils in a Munich school. Photo: DPA

But residents should be prepared for tough measures to be in place for most of the winter months as Germany is unlikely to lift its coronavirus lockdown fully early next year.

Helge Braun, Merkel's chief of staff told RTL broadcaster he had high hopes that the number of infections would fall thanks to the strict measures. But he added: “I think a comprehensive relaxation is very, very unlikely.”

EXPLAINED: These are Germany's tough new lockdown measures

“January and February are always, in terms of respiratory tract infections, particularly difficult months.” As long as there is not enough vaccine doses for everyone during the winter phase, “we will still have difficult days,” he added.

However, Braun said when the lockdown measures are eased, schools and Kitas will have priority.

In spring, gyms and other facilities were reopened first while daycare centres and schools were still closed. The Chancellor's Office promises that this lockdown will be different.

“That's what we've always said. That is the last thing we close and the first thing we open,” the Christian Democrat (CDU) politician said.

“Education has priority, and it will stay that way,” Braun stressed.

Politicians have already dampened hopes that daycare centres and schools would return to normal operations after January 10th.

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder said on Sunday: “Even after that, I can't imagine that everything will simply continue as normal.” The virus does not stick to dates, he added.

READ ALSO: Pandemic 'won't rob our future', says German president

'Don't buy Christmas presents'

Chancellor Merkel and the state leaders agreed to implement harsher coronavirus measures from Wednesday December 16th until at least January 10th.

Under the stricter rules, only essential shops such as supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as banks, are to remain open, while hairdressers will close. Schools will close during the period or move to online teaching.

Restaurants, hotels, bars, beauty salons, cultural and leisure facilities are already closed.

There is also a ban on the sale of fireworks and drinking alcohol in public.

Meanwhile economics minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) called on citizens to refrain from buying Christmas presents altogether on Monday and Tuesday before the stricter measures start because of the risk of infection.

“I hope and wish that people will only buy the most essential food they really need,” he said on Sunday evening, adding that the health of many people is at stake. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported more than 16,000 new cases and 188 deaths on Monday. That's almost half the daily infections reported late last week. But the drop could be linked to fewer tests being carried out and less data being transferred to the RKI during the weekend.

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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.