SHARE
COPY LINK

COVID-19

Boosters, tests and quarantine: German health ministers’ plans to fight fourth Covid wave

The federal and state health minsters will meet this week to thrash out a strategy for the colder months.

People queue for a Covid vaccine in Rostock
Shoppers queue up for a Covid jab at the Impfstützpunkt in Rostock, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Danny Gohlke

The Covid situation has been deteriorating in Germany as the infection rate goes up, along with the number of deaths and the number of patients being admitted to intensive care. 

According to German media site Business Insider, the federal and state health ministers (Conference of Health Ministers or GMK) will meet this Thursday and Friday to discuss the next steps. 

Among other proposals, health ministers want to discuss tightening quarantine regulations for close contacts of people who have contracted Covid.

Furthermore – after nearly two years of pandemic – they are also to discuss better protection for elderly people in nursing homes. The proposals also highlight a broader booster campaign, more mobile vaccination teams in the community and comprehensive testing.

On Wednesday there were 20,398 Covid cases over the past 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch health institute, while another 194 people died.

The number of Covid patients in intensive care on Wednesday rose to 2,226 – up almost 26 percent on the previous week, according to Germany’s DIVI registry.

Here’s a look at some of the points in the draft paper ahead of the health ministers’ meeting: 

Vaccinations: The health ministers will be discussing how to encourage people who are still vaccine-hesitant to get their Covid jab. They will also consider whether to reopen closed vaccination centres. 

Booster vaccinations: The federal and state governments want booster vaccinations – especially in care facilities – to be offered at a faster pace by doctors, including family GPs. “To ensure the vaccination offer, supplementary state vaccination offers, in particular mobile vaccination teams, will be used if necessary,” says the draft paper. 

The doctors’ union Marburger Bund also called for booster vaccinations to be offered more quickly. “We need to push the pace more on booster vaccinations,” said chairwoman Susanne Johna. “The health ministries of the states should now inform everyone over 70 by letter specifically about the possibility of booster vaccination,” she said. “You can’t just assume that people already know about it.”

Health Minister Jens Spahn earlier on Wednesday urged states to be proactive about the booster campaign. 

READ ALSO: Germany seeing a ‘massive pandemic of the unvaccinated’

Information campaign: the Associations of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians in the states, as well as family doctors, are asked to actively inform people about the recommendation and the offer of booster vaccinations, the paper says. It goes on to say: “The federal government and the states will increasingly inform people about the possibility and benefits of taking up booster vaccinations as part of their public relations work and will also specifically approach certain vulnerable groups of people for this purpose, for example by writing to citizens over 70 years of age.”

That could even be reduced to the over 60s since Spahn has spoken out in favour of giving all the over 60s a booster jab as soon as possible.

Everyone offered a booster: In fact, health ministers are going a big step further – and essentially want to offer a top-up jab to everyone half a year after their last dose. They say: “In addition, within the framework of existing capacities and after medical assessment and decision, booster vaccinations can in principle be offered to all persons who wish to have them after the expiry of six months after completion of the first vaccination series.”

This plea for all vaccinated Germans to get a booster jab after six months is at odds with the nation’s STIKO vaccine commission, which at the moment is only recommending booster shots for the elderly and certain at-risk groups. However, STIKO announced on Tuesday that it was in the process of researching whether to issue a general recommendation for everyone to be given a top-up. This will depend on how far boosters are shown to be successful in limiting Covid infections, STIKO president Thomas Mertens told DPA.

READ ALSO: 

Covid-19 tests: According to the health ministers, there needs to be a larger focus on testing in care homes. “The federal government and the states say they will work towards ensuring that a sufficient range of tests is available in care facilities,” the draft paper says. “If this turns out to be insufficient, the Federation will examine an adjustment of the testing strategy and expansion of testing opportunities for staff and visitors in a timely manner and adapt the legal and financial framework and ensure sustainable funding.” Test concepts are to be reviewed “closely” by the supervisory authorities of the care facilities.

Rhineland Palatinate and Brandenburg have recently introduced mandatory daily tests for staff who work in care homes.

Costs: The federal government will continue to ensure that care facilities are reimbursed for the personnel and material costs of testing without burdening those in need of care, the paper says. 

What else should I know?

Some states are now beginning to tighten their Covid measures, with pressure being piled on those eligible for vaccination who choose not to get it. 

READ ALSO: How German states are tightening Covid rules for winter

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, said she was in favour of stricter curbs focussed on the unvaccinated.

“If the pandemic situations in hospitals worsens… then further restrictions for unvaccinated people are possible,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said on behalf of the chancellor.

Meanwhile, there are calls for a meeting between the caretaker government and the regional leaders of the 16 states to discuss a nationwide approach to the Covid surge. 

Under Germany’s federal system, regional states have significant powers to decide their own Covid approach, at times leading to a confusing patchwork of regulations.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

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. 

SHOW COMMENTS