“The case numbers are rising again,” said Health Minister Jens Spahn at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.
“We still have to prepare for some very challenging weeks in which we struggle to find a balance between the necessary health protection and the normality we long for.”
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), said: “At the beginning of this year, we succeeded very well in reducing the number of cases. But the pandemic is not over, on the contrary. Now we are at the beginning of a third wave.”
The challenge now is to keep the third wave as flat as possible, Wieler added.
“We have to prevent the number of cases from exploding again.” Otherwise, he said, there is a risk of a repeat of what happened to Germany just before Christmas.
At that time many people fell ill, deaths increased and there was a heavy burden on the health system. The number of cases per 100,000 people in seven days (the 7-day incidence) reached almost 200 on December 22nd 2020.
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On Friday the RKI registered 12,834 new Covid cases within 24 hours – 2,000 more compared to a week ago. More than 250 deaths were reported within a day. The 7-day incidence rose to 72.4, compared to 69.1 the previous day.
According to Wieler, there is no evidence that the rising number of Covid infections have anything to do with more frequent testing in Germany.
“The increase is not related to more testing,” he said.
Wieler said the number of patients in intensive care units is also increasing in some federal states.
Are vaccines helping the situation?
The effect of coronavirus vaccinations is becoming noticeable as the number of cases are decreasing among the very old.
But a rising number of younger people in Germany are becoming infected with Covid-19.
Since February, this has also been the case for children under the age of 15.
“There are more daycare outbreaks in Germany again, even more than before Christmas,” said Wieler. He said this could be down to coronavirus mutations – particularly the B.1.1.7 variant, which originated in the UK – spreading more in Germany.
Both Wieler and Spahn stressed that vaccinations are the way out of the pandemic.
“However, it may still take a while before a majority of people are vaccinated,” Wieler said. Spahn reiterated the goal of including family doctors in vaccinations by mid-April at the latest – but that does depend on deliveries of the vaccines “taking place as promised”.
Currently, it is not possible to carry out injections both in vaccination centres and doctors’ practices because there are not enough vaccine supplies, Spahn said.
The Health Minister also said vaccination priority groups should not be changed when doctors’ surgeries begin the jabs.
“If we had not vaccinated nursing home residents and the very old, especially those at risk, first, we would have protected fewer people from severe and fatal courses in recent weeks,” Spahn said.
The fact that the number of reported deaths is currently declining is also due to this vaccination strategy, said the RKI head Wieler. “Age is the essential risk factor.”