Germany needs lower virus numbers for ‘carefree summer’: health minister

Germany needs to stay vigilant and further bring down the number of coronavirus infections if the country is to enjoy a "carefree summer" and large-scale reopenings, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Sunday.

Germany needs lower virus numbers for 'carefree summer': health minister
German Health Minister Jens Spahn in Berlin on May 3rd, 2021. Tobias Schwarz / AFP

“The weather is improving, the number of vaccinations is rising, infection rates are falling. The restrictions will fall one by one,” Spahn told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“And that’s incredibly important after the long, dark winter months. But for a carefree summer, we need to lower the incidence rate even further,” he said.

Germany has in recent weeks managed to break a third wave of the pandemic after imposing strict nationwide curbs and picking up the pace of vaccinations.

The closely watched seven-day incidence rate in the European Union’s most populous country has fallen from 169 new infections per 100,000 people in late
April to 64.5 on Sunday.

Germany’s 16 regional states have started relaxing restrictions, with some reopening beer gardens, hotels and swimming pools while others are bringing pupils back to school full-time.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What does it mean now Germany has made the UK a virus variant area of concern?

But Spahn warned against opening up too soon.

“Caution and vigilance remain the order of the day,” he told Bild.

“Last summer the incidence rate was below 20. We should aim for that again.”

The minister also said Germany had to learn lessons from the summer of 2020, when returning holidaymakers led to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Spahn said special attention should be paid to trips by people visiting relatives in Turkey and Balkan countries, which at one point last year “accounted for around 50 percent of all new infections” in Germany.

“We must prevent that this year,” he said, stressing the importance of mandatory coronavirus tests.

“We want to strike early agreements with countries like Turkey about tests on arrival and departure,” he added.

Looking ahead to the new school year, Spahn said Germany would start inoculating 12- to 15-year-olds as soon as European regulators approved the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for those ages, which he expects to happen “soon”.

“The goal is then for regional states to offer (those) pupils a jab before the end of August.”

Germany has recorded more than 3.6 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, adding another 6,714 new cases over the last 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch health agency.

More than 87,000 people have died so far.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now