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COVID-19

Germany ‘doesn’t need a Covid exit strategy like UK’, says Health Minister

German Health Minister Jens Spahn slammed the UK's 'Covid freedom day' on Wednesday, saying the country had bought its freedom with countless infections and a disproportionately high number of deaths.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn displays his vaccine booklet
German Health Minister Jens Spahn displays his vaccine booklet at a doctors' surgery in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool | Kay Nietfeld

Appearing at a press conference with Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler and the Standing Vaccine Commission’s Thomas Mertens, Spahn said the government had no plans to phase out Covid restrictions in the same way as the UK.

“We don’t need an exit strategy,” he told one reporter after being asked when Germany planned to lift restrictions on public life such as testing, masks and health pass entry rules. 

Pointing to the UK, which simultaneously dropped all remaining Covid restrictions on July 19th, 2021, Spahn said the country had paid a high price for its increased freedoms. 

“The UK bought their herd immunity through countless infections, and double the number of deaths,” he said. “If we had the same amount of deaths per capita as in the UK, 200,000 people would have died in Germany.” 

With the start of the flu season approaching, health experts are concerned that the combined impact of influenza and Covid could place undue stress on Germany’s healthcare system.

“If many Covid-19 and flu sufferers appear at the same time, the hospitals will be massively overburdened,” Wieler said at the press conference. 

Such a scenario can best be avoided with vaccinations and the wearing of masks, social distancing, hygiene, ventilation and using the Corona-Warn app, he added.

READ ALSO: Is Germany set for a spike in Covid cases this autumn?

Urging people to get their flu jabs, Spahn emphasised that people would have to remain cautious throughout the colder months in order to keep Covid infections low.

“Four in five adults are now fully vaccinated, which allows for a lot, but we still need to look after each other over autumn and winter,” he said. 

Increased vaccination rates would mean that Germany could start to ease restrictions even further, he said.

“If another variant doesn’t emerge that’s vaccine-resistant, I’m confident we can have a lot of freedom back next year.” 

‘Children need protecting’

Since schools reopened with in-person teaching in most parts of Germany, the RKI has recorded a much higher prevalence of children with Covid compared to the rest of the population. 

In recent weeks, however, a handful of states have decided to drop the mask-wearing requirement in schools, with others said to be weighing up the move.

READ ALSO:

Commenting on loosening restrictions in schools, RKI chairman Lothar Wieler said social distancing and other protective measures were still advisable in school premises due to the level of indoor contact involved. 

At present, there isn’t enough evidence to determine the long-term effects of the coronavirus on children, though there is evidence that children can also suffer from Long Covid, he said.

“We’re still of the opinion that children need protecting,” Wieler said. “We want schools and nurseries to remain open, but please keep protective measures in place.”

The weekly incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people has been fluctuating over the past month or so. As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence had dropped slightly to 62.3 per 100,000 residents, down from 63.6 the day before.

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

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