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VACCINATION

When will people with Covid immunity in Germany get more freedoms?

Chancellor Angela Merkel said people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 - and those who've recovered from the disease - can expect to face fewer Covid restrictions. What's the timetable for this?

When will people with Covid immunity in Germany get more freedoms?
A vaccination card in Cologne shows one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine has been given. Photo: DPA

What’s happened?

Merkel held a vaccine summit with Germany’s 16 state leaders on Monday to discuss whether fully inoculated people in Germany, and those who have had Covid-19 and recovered, should get more freedoms.

The Chancellor said that people who have received both jabs should “obviously” be allowed to get a haircut or go into a shop without having to show a negative coronavirus test as is currently the case for everyone in areas with high Covid-rates.

She also said that they would be exempt from rules like quarantining after close contact with an infected person.

The same would apply to people who can prove they have recovered from a coronavirus infection, for instance by showing a positive PCR test that is at least 28 days old.

READ ALSO:

Does this happen right away?

Merkel said that the government will prepare a decree setting out its proposals and present them to the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, which represents the 16 states. She didn’t give a timescale on this plan.

Later on Monday, however, Health Minister Jens Spahn told broadcaster ARD that there was a firm timetable.

The CDU politician said the government is to decide by the end of May to what extent vaccinated people and recovered Covid patients will continue to be subject to strict rules, such as rapid testing, curfews and contact restrictions.

“The federal government will make a proposal for this next week and the Bundesrat will then make a final decision on May 28th. So, there is a schedule,” he said.

However, later on Tuesday it emerged that several states, including Bavaria, Berlin and Hesse, will be easing the rules for vaccinated people, such as getting rid of the obligation to present a negative Covid test before visiting non-essential shops and hairdressers.

READ ALSO: Bavaria and Berlin ease Covid rules for vaccinated people

It is likely that other states will follow.

Up to April 26th about 23.9 percent of the population had received at least one vaccine dose. About 7.3 percent have been fully inoculated.

IN NUMBERS: Is Germany ramping up the Covid-19 vaccine rollout?

What’s the reaction?

After the summit, representatives of towns and districts slammed the postponement of the decision on the rights of vaccinated people.

“It is regrettable that no final agreement was reached with the federal Chancellor about the lifting of the restrictions on fundamental rights for fully vaccinated citizens at the conference of state premiers,” said Gerd Landsberg, head of the Association of Towns and Municipalities.

Landsberg emphasised that it was not a question of granting special rights or privileges, “but of repealing unjustified encroachments on fundamental rights”.

One expects “a quick agreement in the Bundestag and Bundesrat and a clear legal regulation as to when which fundamental rights restrictions are lifted,” he told the Rheinische Post. “This applies in particular with a view to curfews and contact restrictions.”

District council president Reinhard Sager told  Funke media group newspapers that it is right to allow those who have been inoculated or have recovered from Covid to carry out activities without having to show a negative rapid Covid test.

He said that allowing this quickly would provide a way forward, particularly for the retail trade and the hospitality industry.

The majority of people in Germany are in favour of relaxing Covid restrictions for people who are inoculated, according to a new poll.

In a survey by the opinion research institute YouGov, 56 percent of respondents said they were in favour of giving fully vaccinated people in Germany more freedom again.

In contrast, 36 percent were “rather” or “completely” opposed to this. And 8 percent made no statement. For the representative survey, 1,138 people in Germany aged 18 and over were interviewed on April 26th.

What else should we know?

Merkel said the move to give those with Covid immunity back some of their basic rights comes after the country’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases recently found that fully vaccinated people and those who have recovered, “no longer pose a relevant infection danger”.

She added that Germany faced a “difficult transition phase” as a growing number of people get their shots and will be desperate for more freedoms, while a significant part of the population will still be living with tough restrictions.

Although it was important to give people back their basic rights “as soon as possible”, she said, “we will have to live with the virus for a long while to come”.

Under the proposed relaxations, people with Covid immunity would no longer have to show a recent negative coronavirus test to enter certain shops, get a haircut or attend certain events.

They would also be exempt from quarantining after returning from abroad, unless they were coming from a country classed as a high-risk virus variant area such as India.

READ MORE: German government proposes more rights for vaccinated people: What you need to know

On Monday Merkel also confirmed that Germany will lift the priority order for vaccines in June, meaning that all adults will be offered a Covid vaccine.

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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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