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COVID-19

German states order tougher Covid rules to fight fourth wave

Hard-hit German states are piling pressure on the unvaccinated with new restrictions to fight the Covid-19 fourth wave.

A Zugspitzbahn employee sticks a 2G notice up at the entrance to a cable car lift.
A Zugspitzbahn employee sticks a 2G notice up at the entrance to a cable car lift in Grainau, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The nationwide 7-day incidence across Germany reached a record high on Monday. It soared to 201.1 Covid infections per 100,000 people within seven days – surpassing the last high of 197.6 reached on December 22nd, 2020.

And in some German states the incidence is even higher. In Saxony, the 7-day incidence reached 491.3 infections per 100,000 residents, making it the current Covid hotspot in Germany.

Saxony also has the lowest vaccination rate, with just 57.1 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Nationwide, 67.1 percent of the population is fully jabbed.

READ ALSO: Why are Covid infections spiralling in three German states?

What are the changes to Covid restrictions?

Saxony significantly tightened Covid measures – and they are mostly aimed at people eligible for vaccination who choose not to get their shots. 

From Monday onwards, only vaccinated people – or those who’ve recovered from Covid-19 in the last six months – have access to many areas of public life in the eastern state. These include indoor restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities and football stadiums. This is the so-called 2G rule, which stands for geimpft (vaccinated) and genesen (recovered). 

Unlike the 3G rules, which include access to unvaccinated people with a test (getestet) people who are unvaccinated are generally excluded. 

States are pushing restrictions towards unvaccinated people because infection rates are higher in this group, and they are more likely to suffer a severe course of Covid-19 if they become infected. On Sunday Saxon state figures showed that the 7-day incidence among the vaccinated was 80 cases per 100,000 people, while it was almost 900 among the unvaccinated. 

READ ALSO: German state of Saxony announces sweeping curbs on unvaccinated

The new rules are the toughest state-wide restrictions in Germany against non-inoculated people. Only children as well as those who cannot receive jabs for medical reasons are exempt.

The state is also ordering compulsory FFP2 masks on public transport. The federal requirement is for people to wear medical masks. 

READ ALSO:

Tougher Covid rules have been in force in Bavaria since Sunday due to the high number of occupied intensive care beds.

The south-eastern state also has a lower than average vaccination rate, with 65 percent of the population fully jabbed. 

In the southern state, only vaccinated people, those who’ve recovered from Covid and people with a negative PCR test are now allowed to enter some parts of public life, such as indoor events (so-called 3G plus rule)  In the past, unvaccinated people could show a rapid antigen test rather than the more expensive PCR test. 

FFP2 masks have to be worn again by everyone in certain public areas such as on transport. In regions where the number of new infections and intensive care patients is higher, even stricter rules apply.

However, Bavaria’s traffic light ‘Covid warning system’ looks set to hit red soon – the highest alert. 

Bavaria will implement 2G rules when there are more than 600 Covid-19 patients in intensive care for two days in a row. On Monday, there were 604 Covid patients in ICU. If the number remains at this level, Bavaria will order tougher measures on the third day. 

Meanwhile, Baden-Württemberg is preparing to declare the highest risk level of their ‘Covid warning system’, which would see restrictions tightened.

Last week the south western state ordered costly PCR tests for unvaccinated people seeking access to indoor dining or other activities (3G-plus), but fell short of an all-out exclusion.

However, the ministry of social affairs said Sunday it expects the highest alert level to be declared soon.

As of Sunday, 323 patients with Covid-19 were being treated in intensive care units (ICU) in the state. If the number of patients rises above 390 over two days, new restrictions will apply.

The state would move to a 2G system – excluding the unvaccinated from many public places like museums, indoor dining and bars. 

Around 65.2 percent of Baden-Württemberg is fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Will 2G be the norm?

Many states in Germany, including Berlin and Hamburg, already offer businesses the option of enforcing the 2G rule. But there are calls for a Germany-wide 2G system that would see the unvaccinated excluded from public life.

Some states are against this move, though.

Schleswig-Holstein, for instance, continues to back 3G rules. 

“I don’t believe in massively increasing the pressure on non-vaccinated people,” health minister Heiner Garg (FDP) told German broadcaster ARD.

READ MORE: Calls grow for Germany to bring in national restrictions for unvaccinated

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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. 

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