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German government pushes to extend Covid-19 shutdown until March 14th

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government wants to extend most strict curbs to fight the pandemic until March 14th, according to a draft text.

German government pushes to extend Covid-19 shutdown until March 14th
A poster in Cologne about the cancelled carnival season. Photo: DPA

Despite a fall in infection numbers, new and more contagious coronavirus variants “are spreading especially quickly and require significant additional efforts”, said the document, which still needs to be approved by the leaders of Germany's 16 states.

Merkel and the regional premiers are due to hold crunch talks later on Wednesday on how to deal with the coronavirus situation. The current measures are due to expire on February 14th.

Under Germany's federal system, regional states have significant decision-making powers and some have strayed from the government line in the past to loosen some restrictions.

READ ALSO: Merkel seeks to extend Covid-19 measures as Germans grumble

The draft text stresses that schools and daycare centres should be “the first to gradually reopen”, but that it is for individual states to decide how and when.

Some states have already said they want to open schools earlier.

Hairdressers could reopen on March 1st, the document suggests, if they take the necessary hygiene precautions.

It also raises the prospect of museums, galleries and some services restarting once the virus incidence rate falls to 35 new cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

“Whether and when the next opening steps can take place will be decided at the joint meeting on March 10th in the light of the development of the infection figures,” the paper states.

On Wednesday Germany recorded 8,072 coronavirus cases and 813 deaths within 24 hours. The number of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days stands at 68.

“We would gain nothing if we left lockdown prematurely,” Merkel told members of her CDU party on Tuesday, according to participants at the meeting.

READ ALSO: Should Germany's lockdown be tightened further over virus variants

Do we know anything for certain at this stage?

No. This is what the government is aiming for but it has to be approved by the leaders representing the 16 federal states.

So it's not certain that the shutdown will be extended until mid-March, although it does look like it will be extended in some form. State leaders may try and bring this date forward to March 7th or the end of February.

We'll find out more after the meeting takes place on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Calls grow for Germany to offer 'step by step' plan out of lockdown

Germany closed restaurants, hotels, culture and leisure centres in November, before adding schools and non-essential shops to the list in December.

Households are allowed to meet with one other person, and the government has urged people to reduce contact to the minimum.

Meanwhile, Baden-Württemberg's state premier Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) dampened hopes of quick relaxations of the rules.

If the state-wide incidences are below 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over a certain period of time, cautious opening steps will be taken, he told the Badische Zeitung.

“But no one can expect us to start opening everything right away,” he said, adding that the situation is too fragile for that.

He added: “The experiences of other countries show: Opening up too early leads to setbacks and thus to even tougher measures.”

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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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