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SHUTDOWN

German Health Minister hints at easing of Covid-19 measures

German Health Minister Jens Spahn on Thursday suggested coronavirus restrictions could be lifted before spring, as case numbers in the country continued to edge downwards.

German Health Minister hints at easing of Covid-19 measures
A sign says 'Rather than on Amazon' on a shop in Köpenick in Berlin. Photo: DPA

“We can't stay in this hard lockdown all winter. We would not tolerate that well as a society,” Spahn said in an interview with the Funke media group.

Germany went into a partial lockdown in November, closing bars, restaurants and cultural and sporting facilities.

Schools and non-essential shops were added to the list in mid-December, with rules on mask-wearing and working from home tightened in January amid concerns over new virus variants.

The number of new infections and patients in intensive care has been falling steadily since the start of the year, a trend Spahn called “encouraging”.

But the Robert Koch Institute health body reported 14,211 new cases and 786 deaths on Thursday and an incidence rate of 81 – still well above the target of 50 that German politicians have set as a yardstick for reopening.

READ ALSO: At what point could Germany begin easing Covid restrictions?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states will meet next Wednesday to decide whether to extend restrictions after they expire on February 14th.

Some experts believe it is too soon to relax the measures, especially in the light of new, more contagious variants.

Ute Teichert, the head of the Federal Association of German Public Health Officers, called last week for a so-called zero-Covid strategy to stamp out infections.

“We cannot start relaxing (restrictions) again at an incidence rate of 100, 70 or 50,” she said.

Other scientists have also said Germany should aim for a coronavirus incidence rate of under 10 before loosening measures.

READ ALSO: 'More than half' of Germans lost trust in government's handling in the pandemic

But Spahn said the goal for Germany remained “to prevent the health system from being overburdened — and not to avoid every infection”.

“To get it down to zero infections and keep it that way comes at a disproportionate cost in other areas of life,” he said.
 

Member comments

  1. After being stuck at home for over 3 months I feel like I could stay in lockdown for a year as I got used to it. But it’s not the case for everyone especially that more people seek psychological consultancy and depression rates are skyrocketing. As Spahn said, the lockdown is to protect breaking the health system. The virus will stay for a long while and we have to adapt to it instead. Government should find solutions to spread the vaccine instead of keeping lockdown.

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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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