“We are currently seeing that we are already dealing with the mutant form in several hospitals,” said Helge Braun, head of the Chancellor's Office, to public broadcaster ARD on Sunday.
“This means that it has arrived in our country, and therefore at some point it will take over, as it has in other countries, and will cause problems,” Braun said on the ARD talk show 'Anne Will'.
“I am very sure of that,” he added when asked.
(article continues below)
See also on The Local:
A potentially different variant was also detected following an outbreak at a Bavarian hospital, and is currently being studied.
Braun added that it was now all the more important to reduce the infection figures “very sharply,” giving the mutation less of a chance to spread.
The virus type B.1.1.7 had so far appeared mainly in the UK, but is also circulating widely in Brazil and South Africa. It has led many EU countries, including Germany, to impose strict travel bans on non-residents flying from these affected areas.
According to experts, this variant is more easily transmitted than the Covid-19 stand which has prevailed since the beginning of the pandemic. However, experts cannot yet say with certainty whether it's also more deadly.
The Social Democratic (SPD) health politician Karl Lauterbach told Bild that the new variants are “six to eight times more contagious”.
“And if I then extrapolate the current figures, I quickly arrive at the scenario that (Charite virologist) Christian Drosten has calculated,” he added.
Drosten said that there could be a worst-case scenario of 100,000 new infections per day if Germany's current shutdown ended too early.
Due to the high numbers and deaths as well as fears over virus variants, Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders exteneded and tightened lockdown measures until February 14th.
The highest number of new infections registered within 24 hours, 33,777, was reported on December 18th, but this figure included 3,500 follow-up reports. Since then, the numbers have been falling.
However, Lauterbach warned: “We will need a very hard and very well functioning lockdown, because the new variants are of a completely different calibre. They have a completely different threat potential again.”
Lauterbach – just like Drosten – does not assume that the spread of the virus will stop in summer.
In light of the situation, several politicians spoke out against isolated calls for an end to the lockdown in mid-February.
“The threat situation is still too great,” the new Christian Democratic (CDU) leader Armin Laschet said.
Many fear that an extended shutdown could mean that schools and Kitas (day-care centres) remain closed even longer. Currently most Kitas are only open for emergency care, and some schools have moved their curriculum entirely only.
Nevertheless, the chairperson of the Conference of Ministers of Education, Britta Ernst, said that some school openings at the beginning of February would be possible.
“Certainly not completely,” the Brandenburg education minister told the “Rheinische Post”.
“But I think it is possible with the appropriate measures, for example with alternating classes.” Initially, she said, this could also apply only to final-year classes and entering-year classes.
The SPD politician said that every one of Germany's 16 states should be able to decide when to open its own schools.
Asked whether schools would remain closed until Easter, Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) told Bild: “The better we get the numbers down, the earlier we can open.”
“It is important that we think about plans now and then orient ourselves to the infection figures. Where the numbers go down, we can do face-to-face teaching,” she added, pointing out that health protection is the highest priority right now.