What does Germany's higher vaccination rate mean for winter?
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's vaccination rate could be up to five percent higher than previously thought. What could this mean for the Health Ministry's Covid strategy over autumn and winter?
What's going on?
On Thursday, Germany's public health authority said they believed the current official vaccination statistics represented a "minimum vaccination rate", adding that the real figures could be significantly higher.
The RKI believes that, as of Tuesday, up to 84 percent of over 18s in Germany had received at least one jab, and up to 80 percent were fully vaccinated.
The new estimate, which is based on citizen surveys and reporting data, suggests that around 3.5 million more people have had their jabs than previously thought.
According to official reports from vaccination centres and GPs, slightly less than 80 percent of those over 18 have received their first dose, and just over 75 percent have been fully jabbed. That means that there could be around a five percent difference between previously published figures and real vaccinations.
Experts believe this is largely to do with insufficient reporting from smaller doctors' surgeries, who were often overburdened at the height of the pandemic and unable to pass on accurate figures to the RKI.
What will the government do with this information?
If the RKI's new estimates are accurate, the figures are now much closer to government targets for vaccination coverage, leading some to question whether remaining restrictions could now be lifted.
In other words, with the overwhelming majority of adults now fully jabbed, could Germany get away with having its own UK-style "Freedom Day"?
Not just yet, says Health Minister Jens Spahn. However, the higher number of jabs does mean that his ministry won't need to tighten up restrictions any further this winter.
Health Minister Jen Spahn reveals that there will no "no further Covid restrictions" this winter. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/WDR | Oliver Ziebe
"This gives us additional security for autumn and winter," Spahn said in a statement on German broadcaster ARD on Thursday.
"Above it all, it gives us added certainty that we can dispense with AHA (social distancing) regulations and masks outside, and that with 3G - vaccinated, recovered and tested - in inside spaces and medical masks on buses and trains as measures for autumn and winter, we can easily get through this time of year."
Looking at the present situation, he added, "no further restrictions are needed".
What does this mean in practice?
In day to day life, it doesn't look like there'll be any major changes in Covid policy.
As Spahn made clear, the '3G' rule, which stands for vaccinated (geimpft), recovered (genesen) or tested (getestet) will continue to be the standard for public indoor spaces throughout autumn and winter.
And you won't get away with removing your mask on underground trains or buses anytime soon.
Looked at another way, however, the promise of "no further restrictions" is a world away from threats of hard lockdowns or national '2G' (vaccinated or recovered only) entry policies to public spaces.
While several states in Germany have opted to allow business owners to introduce an optional '2G' rule, on a national level, '3G' is currently the standard - though Spahn has previously warned that this could change if vaccination coverage does not improve and infection rates start to soar.
With the buffer of an additional three million or so vaccinated people, it's now highly unlikely that a national '2G' rule will be brought into force, so anyone who hasn't got their jabs yet should have a slightly easier time of it this winter.
As Reuters reporter Riham Alkousaa pointed out on Twitter, Spahn's statement is also good news for anyone trying to plan their Christmas festivities.
With no further restrictions on the horizon, it's almost certain that crowds will able to gather outdoors at Germany's famous Weinachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) once again this December, while pubs, shops and theatres can keep their doors open for the festive season.
If you want to visit them, though, make sure you've got your digital health pass or negative test to hand, since '3G' isn't going anywhere anytime soon.