German Health Minister insists Covid ‘state of emergency’ can end in November

Covid infections are rising, but Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn believes the so-called 'epidemic situation of national relevance' can be phased out.

Health Minister Jens Spahn adjusts his FFP2 mask during the North Rhine-Westphalia CDU state party conference on Saturday.
Health Minister Jens Spahn adjusts his FFP2 mask during the North Rhine-Westphalia CDU state party conference on Saturday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Thissen

Spahn insisted on Sunday that Germany’s ‘pandemic emergency powers’ should expire in November.

“The state of emergency, established by the Bundestag – that can be ended in my view because four out of five adults have been vaccinated,” he told broadcaster ZDF. 

A nationwide Covid-19 state of emergency, which is a special clause in the German constitution, allows the federal and state governments to order measures without the approval of parliaments. It was first declared in March 2020.

READ ALSO: Germany’s emergency pandemic powers could end in November

In August this year, the Bundestag extended the “epidemic situation of national importance” for a further three months until November 25th. It will automatically end if not extended again by parliament.

The topic has sparked controversy in view of the currently rising Covid-19 infection figures in Germany. Critics fear a “patchwork” of measures and regulations across Germany’s 16 states when the state of emergency ends. 

However, Spahn said this move would not declare the pandemic over. He said restrictions, including Germany’s so-called Covid health pass entry rules to many indoor public spaces – known as 3G in German for vaccinated (geimpft), recovered (genesen) and tested (getestet) – were very important. 

Fact check: Will Germany’s Covid restrictions end in November?

He said: “I also say consistently, as do many others, we still need precautionary measures in autumn and winter.” Spahn added that mask and distance rules were needed in areas such as public transport and shops. 

Spahn said a change in the law would make it possible for the states and local authorities to continue Covid measures. 

“I also expressly support that,” Spahn said, adding that he believed special protective measures were also needed in places like schools and nursing homes. 

On Monday Germany recorded 6,573 Covid infections and 17 deaths within 24 hours. The 7-day incidence rose to 110.1 Covid infections per 100,000 residents. 

The number of hospitalisations has also increased slightly.

READ ALSO: Germany’s real Covid fourth wave has started, says health expert

Experts say the Covid situation will get worse over winter. 

SPD health politician Karl Lauterbach warned of sharply rising infection figures among children.

“We will see significantly more outbreaks in schools after the autumn holidays,” he told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

“There will also be chains of infection in businesses. The same applies to bars and restaurants. We can expect a continuous increase.”

Lauterbach suggested more Covid testing in schools to help control the situation and protect children. 

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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.