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SHUTDOWN

Stricter shutdown generates mixed response across Germany

There was a divided reaction to Germany's new stricter shutdown, which went into effect on Monday throughout Germany. Some politicians said it was welcome in light of growing infection rates, while others called for looser alternative measures.

Stricter shutdown generates mixed response across Germany
Jena, Thuringia's city centre was virtually empty on Monday morning amid the start of the new shutdown. Photo: DPA

In view of the continuing high number of coronavirus infections, stricter regulations will apply in all of Germany's 16 states as of Monday.

Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Bremen, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein are the last states to implement the rules adopted last Tuesday following a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders.

They include stricter contact measures: A household may only meet with one other person outside of it.

Extreme coronavirus hotspots are also imposing restrictions on freedom of movement. 

It means people in areas with a seven-day incidence of more than 200 infections per 100,000 inhabitants are not allowed to travel more than 15 kilometres from their place of residence within seven days without a valid reason. 

However different states are taking different approaches, sometimes leaving implementation up to municipalities themselves, or only recommending the measure.

READ ALSO: This is how Germany's coronavirus rules vary across states

Mixed reactions on shutdown

The reaction around Germany to the stricter rules – set to be in effect until at least the end of January – was mixed on Monday.

Some politicians and health experts welcomed them in light of growing infection figures and others called them an encroachment on freedom.

Thuringia's state premier Bodo Ramelow, who has previously been in favour of relaxing coronavirus rules, said he welcomed new restrictions in light of increasingly high infections in his eastern state.

“We simply have to face the fact that the coronavirus is only now starting to really gain momentum,” Ramelow told public broadcaster ZDF. 

“I notice that in Thuringia, where I live, the situation is on fire right now. Today is a bad day for me: we have exceeded a seven-day incidence of 300 in the whole of Thuringia, and all districts and cities have exceeded the 200 mark. There is no more room for relaxation of the rules.”

Ramelow speaking in Thuringia's parliament in December. Photo: DPA

Social Democratic politician and health expert Karl Lauterbach even called for tightening the current shutdown and “drastically shutting down” the economy if necessary.

“We have focused very strongly on the private sector and schools. If that is not enough, then we will actually have to focus (on closing more businesses),” he told the Tagesspiegel on Monday. “It simply won't work any other way.”

Schools

Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey has called on states to agree on rules for schools and daycare centres (Kitas) that are as uniform as possible.

States are approaching schools and Kitas differently, with some opening up in January and others waiting longer.

“I, too, think this makes sense and I am committed to a common framework,” the SPD politician told the Rheinische Post on Monday.

Meanwhile, the German Child Protection League (Deutscher Kinderschutzbund) sharply criticised state measures on schools.

“It is a mystery to me why the states have not used the summer to develop clear and binding regulations for face-to-face, alternating and distance learning and to equip the schools accordingly,” President Heinz Hilgers told the Rheinische Post.

“This is a failure that threatens to reduce acceptance of the necessary measures to combat the pandemic.”

15 km rule

Free Democrats (FDP) Secretary General Volker Wissing says the decision to limit the movement radius of residents in hotspots to a radius of 15 kilometres unacceptable.

“The 15-kilometre regulation is an imposition,” he said on a live broadcast on Bild. “It may not be a problem for people in Berlin and big cities, but in the countryside it massively encroaches on civil liberties.”

This must be closely observed and intervened in at an early stage. Under no circumstances should this be allowed to drift.”

READ ALSO: 15 km rule: Which areas in Germany are affected by new movement restrictions?

'Quick end' needed

Christian Democrat Friedrich Merz, who is vying to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel later this year, argued for a quick end to the lockdown, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. 

“For many small firms, the point has already been reached where there is no way forward…They have to get out of the lockdown as quickly as possible, back to normal business with a hygiene concept,” he told Bild on Monday.

North Rhine-Westphalian Prime Minister Armin Laschet of Merkel's Christian Democrats told the the Neue Berliner Redaktionsgesellschaft on Monday “If you loosen up too early, you run the risk of things going steeply up again afterwards. We need patience and prudence.” 

He said his hope was that the situation would ease amid the shutdown and roll-out of more vaccinations, the next batch of which is expected to arrive in Germany on Tuesday.

“But if the mutated virus discovered in the UK spreads any further, times will get more serious,” he said.

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COVID-19

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. 

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