After a phase of falling cases, the coronavirus infection rate has been rising in Germany. On Tuesday the number of cases per 100,000 residents in seven days stood at 60.5 – up from an incidence of around 55-57 the previous week.
Lauterbach, who has become a high profile voice on health in Germany during the crisis, said this signalled the start of a third wave – even though Germany has not yet left the shutdown put in place to stem the second wave.
“We are not yet in the middle of the third wave of infections, but it has begun and cannot be stopped,” Lauterbach told the Passauer Neue Presse.
Germany's states are aiming to get down to a stable 7-day incidence rate of under 35 cases per 100,000 before more coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Lauterbach said, “I believe that if we enter the third wave so early now, we will not be able to reach the incidence figure of 35 in many places.”
Reopening steps would then have to be pushed back, according to Lauterbach.
Das ist leider die Situation. Die 3. Welle beginnt jetzt. Die Frage ist nur, wie schnell und wie stark. Ihr zu begegnen heisst auch, die Impfstrategie zu verändern. Erstimpfung vor, Astra für alle <65 für alle Risikogruppen schneller verimpfen. https://t.co/AvIkgqiEyA
— Karl Lauterbach (@Karl_Lauterbach) February 20, 2021
The Robert Koch Institute said last week that the Covid variant first discovered in England was responsible for around 22 percent of cases in Germany.
As temperatures creep up in Germany, many may be hopeful that the warmer weather will ease the infection situation.
But Lauterbach said this would not make a difference.
“The problem will not be solved by better weather,” he said. “It will not push back the British variant B.1.1.7. The new variants of the virus will prevail.”
On the topic of school openings, Lauterbach has urged caution. Most states in Germany allowed some pupils to return to the classroom this week.
“From my point of view, it would make sense to open the schools only if the testing of children with antigen self-tests is guaranteed – and these are not even approved yet,” he told the newspapers in the Funke-Mediengruppe.
It must be possible to test children twice a week in alternating classes. That would be the prerequisite for a responsible return to face-to-face teaching, he stressed.
In view of the concerns about a third coronavirus wave, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday advocated for a cautious strategy for reopening public life in three stages.
Opening steps have to be introduced wisely, coupled with increased testing, Merkel told her party colleagues.
But any hopes for a quick opening were dampened later by government spokesman Steffen Seibert.
“The good development that gave us daily falling infection figures over a longer period of time is over at the moment. The numbers are rising again,” he said.
The share of the British virus variant in cases is 20 to 25 percent – and this will increase, he said.