German Health Minister calls for cautious shutdown exit amid Covid-19 mutation concerns

German Health Minister calls for cautious shutdown exit amid Covid-19 mutation concerns
Spahn speaking at a press conference in Berlin on February 5th. Photo: DPA
Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) called for a way out of Germany's shutdown - but also with caution to avoid virus mutations from getting out of control.

The recent painstaking progress achieved in lowering Covid-19 infection figures should not be gambled away, he said at a press conference in Berlin on Friday, pointing to the danger posed by coronavirus mutations.

“If we were to give these mutations the opportunity to spread, we risk a renewed increase in infection figures,” Spahn said.

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He called on schools and Kitas (daycare centres) to be first to open, echoing what German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parents in an video chat on Thursday. 

READ ALSO: Merkel assures parents that schools and Kitas will be first to open after shutdown

Next Wednesday, Merkel will meet with state leaders to decide whether Germany should extend its shutdown, currently in place until February 14th, or at least loosen restrictions.

So far, the three more contagious coronavirus variants do not dominate the number of new cases recorded in Germany, according to estimates of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) – but they are likely to spread further, said Spahn.

He optimistically added, however: “We now have the means to defeat the virus – not immediately, but in the course of the year.”

Nearly three million vaccine doses have now been administered, Spahn said, and more than 800,000 people have already received their second dose.

Furthermore, 80 percent of nursing home residents have already received a first vaccination.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister hints at easing of Covid-19 measures

'Far from under control'

The share of the variant B.1.1.7 in Germany, which is mainly rampant in Britain, is slightly less than six percent, said RKI president Lothar Wieler, speaking at the same press conference.

It has now been detected in 13 of Germany's 16 states, he said.

“The situation is far from under control,” Wieler said. Overall, he said, there are three variants of concern in Germany. “They don't dominate the scene yet.”

However, their share is likely to increase. Overall, the virus has become more dangerous since variants are thought to spread more easily, he said. It is unknown if their course of infection is more severe.

“The virus is not tired yet. On the contrary, it just got another boost.”

On Friday, Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) registered 12,908 new coronavirus cases within 24 hours, and 855 deaths from or with the virus.

Exactly a week before, the RKI recorded 14,022 new infections and 839 deaths within the same time frame.

The 7-day incidence – number of cases per 100,000 people – in Germany stood at 79.9. Officials want to get this figure down to under 50.


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