‘Please stay at home and avoid travel’: RKI boss issues urgent appeal to German residents

An urgent plea has been issued to people in Germany to stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel amid concerns over virus variants.

'Please stay at home and avoid travel': RKI boss issues urgent appeal to German residents
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, on Thursday. Photo: DPA

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.

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.

READ ALSO: Germany logs new record of Covid-19 deaths amid worries of 'pandemic fatigue'

Hospitals overloaded

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.

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German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab