Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute for disease control, expressed concern about a possible spread of coronavirus variants in Germany.
He therefore issued an urgent appeal for people to comply with Covid-19 measures and to refrain from non-essential travel.
Complying with the measures in Germany is currently “more important than ever”, Wieler said in Berlin on Thursday.
It is not yet possible to estimate how the mutations of the virus – which originated in the UK and South Africa and have also appeared in Germany – will spread, Wieler said, adding: “So there is a possibility that the situation will get worse.”
Wieler urged people to keep distance from each other, cut down on social contacts and wear masks.
“Please stay at home whenever possible,” Wieler appealed.
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Wieler called for non-essential travel to be avoided. All cases of the new variants that have been logged so far were brought to Germany by travellers, he said.
The RKI chief slammed the fact that coronavirus restrictions have not been implemented with the same consistency as during the first wave.
“There is an opportunity to tighten up on individual measures,” Wieler said.
Germany has been strongly encouraging people not to travel, and to stay at home. But there are no official orders like there were in spring.
Wieler referred to the high workload in the health sector, especially in intensive care units. There, he said, the average age of patients is often under 60.
Due to the high number of infections, more younger people are affected. But now the best possible care for sick people can no longer be guaranteed throughout the country due to overloaded hospitals, he said.
Wieler appealed to employers to allow employees to work from home more often in a bid to bring numbers down. “Now home working protects the health of all of us – for that we need even more responsible employers,” he said.
The health chief said the infection situation cannot be easily interpreted at the moment because of the holidays.
However, there is a positive development. “The increase is probably no longer as steep as in December,” he said.
Wieler expressed confidence that the virus could be brought under control in the course of the year. “By the end of this year, we will have controlled this pandemic,” he said.
'Lockdown needs to be extended'
Meanwhile, Baden-Württemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann said he believed the hard measures should be extended beyond January – and should be tougher.
“We have to assume that we will have to extend the lockdown,” the Green politician said in Stuttgart on Thursday.
Kretschmann wants to press Chancellor Angela Merkel to bring forward the next meeting with the other state premiers, originally planned for January 25th, to next week. He said he would push for “further and tougher measures”.
He said Germany needed this action because of the high infection numbers, and the new virus variants, which have been detected in some German states including Baden-Württemberg.
“We are not yet in a downward trend,” Kretschmann said.