RKI boss urges Germans not to travel over Christmas as Covid-19 cases keep rising

The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, has urged Germans to stay at home over the Christmas period, saying "we fear that the holidays could further increase the incidence of infection".

RKI boss urges Germans not to travel over Christmas as Covid-19 cases keep rising
Lothar Wieler. Photo: DPA
Speaking on Tuesday, Wieler urged people to spend Christmas in very small groups and limit contacts to the same few participants.
“We are in for some tough weeks. We shouldn't make them even harder for ourselves,” the RKI boss said. “If people from different regions meet all over Germany, then the virus can spread even faster.”  
He said that the tougher new lockdown measures had so far had no impact on the spread of the virus, with cases continuing to rise.
Figures released on Tuesday morning show a further 19,528 positive tests, with 731 more deaths.
The nationwide number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days rose to an all-time high of 198 on average on Tuesday. The federal government and the Bundesländer want to bring that figure down to below 50.
Currently, though, six states have an incidence level above the 200 mark. The infection rate on Saxony, the worst in the country, is double that figure.
The tighter lockdown measures will last until at least January 10th. At that point the states are legally obligated to either lift the restrictions or renew them.
Vaccines to come
Wieler said he was happy that the first vaccinations would arrive shortly after Christmas but cautioned that it would take a long time before the majority of people are vaccinated and the virus' spread could be controlled through 'herd immunity'.
“That makes it all the more important to reduce the infection figures and keep them permanently low so that we can regain a certain degree of normality as soon as possible in the new year,” he said.
Following Monday's EU approval of Mainz-based Biontech's vaccine, Germany is scheduled to receive a first shipment of some 150,000 doses of the jab on Saturday.
In total, more than 1.3 million doses are expected to be distributed across the country by the end of the year. That will be followed by weekly deliveries of 670,000 doses, Health Minister Jens Spahn has pledged.

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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.