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Could Germany really see a lockdown this winter?

A cafe with 2G entry rules - excluding the unvaccinated - in Stuttgart.
A cafe with 2G entry rules - excluding the unvaccinated - in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Vanessa Reiber
Germany is grappling with record high Covid infections, and hospitals are getting busier. Despite ruling out a lockdown, talk is turning to tougher measures again. Could we really see another shutdown this winter?

A year ago, morale in Germany was low. We were in the grip of the “lockdown light” introduced last November in order to quell the number of Covid infections in time for Christmas.

That “lockdown light,” which saw indoor dining, bars and cultural facilities close, didn’t just last a month – it got progressively tougher, and German residents lived with tough restrictions for months. In fact most measures were only lifted in May this year. 

Today we are in a very different position, with around 67 percent of the population fully vaccinated. 

Yet medical experts say there is not enough vaccination coverage to fight the more transmissible Delta variant of Covid – and that’s one of the reasons why the country is seeing a steep rise in infections, with intensive care units coming under pressure again. 

READ ALSO: Why are Covid infections rising in Germany?

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What measures will Germany consider?

The parties in talks to form a coalition government – Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and FDP – are in favour of letting the Covid ‘state of emergency’ expire on November 25th. They have proposed measures for the 16 states to implement depending on the pressure on hospitals regionally.

They include restricting access to certain facilities only to those who are vaccinated or have recovered from the disease within the last six months – a system known as “2G” in Germany. Some states have already brought in these rules, which effectively ban people who are eligible for vaccination but choose not to get it. 

The parties also want to tighten testing requirements for employers, and reintroduce free rapid antigen tests – a measure that had been in place over the summer but was scrapped in mid-October to incentivise vaccination.

Adding to the complicated situation is that Germany is in political limbo at the moment, stuck between the incoming and outgoing government. 

During a press conference on the Covid situation, outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Friday confirmed that free rapid tests would be back this weekend, and called for more rigorous checks on Covid entry rules into indoor public spaces. 

A venue in Cologne only allows entry to the vaccinated and recovered. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Spahn also called for 2G-plus rules (only vaccinated and recovered people being allowed entry with a negative test) to large events.

The government and states will hold crisis Covid talks on Thursday next week to decide how to go forward.

READ ALSO: Germany must do ‘everything possible’ to break fourth Covid wave, says Health Minister

What about a lockdown?

Unsurprisingly due to their massive unpopularity, German politicians have previously vowed that lockdown or shutdown measures – like we’ve seen in previous waves – won’t be implemented, at least on vaccinated people. 

Earlier this year, Spahn said widespread lockdown measures could only be justified if, for instance, a new variant of Covid-19 was discovered which evaded the vaccines.

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz, expected to take over from Angela Merkel as Chancellor, also said because a large number of people have been vaccinated, it is no longer possible to respond with strict measures such as lockdowns.

But with spiralling Covid cases and hospital beds filling up, some are suggesting that tougher measures are needed for all.

When asked about a possible lockdown to break the fourth wave during a press conference on Friday, Spahn said it shouldn’t be ruled out as a “regional option” in places where intensive care units are overrun. 

Yet the calls are growing for more measures that affect public and private life. 

The RKI urged everyone in Germany to voluntarily reduce their social contacts and avoid large gatherings. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s RKI advises people to cut down on contacts and avoid large events

On Friday, RKI boss Lothar Wieler added that to avoid so-called superspreader events, “the best thing would be to cancel certain large events”.

Meanwhile, Michael Kretschmer, the state premier of Saxony, the worst-hit Covid state, told German TV show Maybrit Illner on Thursday: “A lockdown cannot be ruled out.”

Kretschmer said he was worried that there would be a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Germany without intervention. 

“It’s a virus that can’t be fought by political games – only by medicine and science,” he said. 

Klaus Überla, director of the Virological Institute at the University Hospital Erlangen and member of the STIKO vaccine panel told regional newspapers the Nürnberger Nachrichten and the Nürnberger Zeitung that a short lockdown could act as an “emergency switch.”

He said a quick “lockdown for everyone” both “at work and in private” could help break the fourth wave. 

Earlier this week high profile German virologist Christian Drosten said shutdown measures and contact restrictions were needed in Germany to avoid a further 100,000 deaths. 

But there is major pushback to these suggestions. The FDP’s vice-president Wolfgang Kubicki, for instance, said across-the-board curfews and lockdowns were “unlawful” in response to Saxony leader’s Kretschmer’s comments.

How does Germany emerge from this mess?

Health experts in Germany are calling this wave the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated.’ Doctors report that the vast majority of patients in intensive care units are unvaccinated. 

So the people who have gone out and got themselves vaccinated will struggle to come to terms with any new restrictions on their freedoms. 

A sign at a vaccination centre in Stralsund, northern Germany, shows a waiting time of an hour. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

Neighbouring Austria, which is also dealing with an explosive rise in cases, is considering a tough nationwide lockdown on the section of the population who are eligible for vaccination but choose not to get it. 

This could be an option for Germany, although it’s difficult to see how it would be enforced. 

Experts have said repeatedly that vaccination is the best route out of the pandemic.

In Germany, there may be some tentative good news: the number of vaccines given out has increased in recent days. And with the renewed calls for people to get their booster shots (after a frankly dismal campaign from the German government), people’s immunity will get a top-up.

We’ve also heard reports that waiting times are longer at vaccination points, which could be indicating that the messages are getting through to some people. 

Health Minister Spahn said states would be given more funding to reopen their closed vaccination centres to make it easier for people to get their jabs.

Despite this, experts predict the pressure on hospitals to continue for some time. So politicians face tough decisions in the coming days. 


Member comments

  1. If you will check the weekly UK stats reports on Covid, you will see that most positive cases are among vaccinated (in the 40+ years cohort). Vast majority of those are asymptomatic or with light symptoms, i.e. very likely to be passed around under the current restrictions system common in EU countries when vaccinated people are free to go anywhere whereas non-vaccinated are not. Vaccination does not help to stop the pandemic, it does help to save lives because you get the virus anyway, but you don’t get sick badly. It is painful to see how politicians< and often health professionals, do not understand that. I really want to see the moment when 100% population will get vaccination, because the pandemic will not stop and hopefully this would make them change their attitude. Hopefully with the new drug from Pfizer, this will be irrelevant soon and we will be just treating severely sick people and not pressing for 100% vaccination even among children.

    1. Even with Delta variant vaccination prevents 60-70% of infections. Even only vaccinated people congregate together, the risk of infection is low.

      Vaccinated also tend not to end up in hospital and even less likely to be in ICU – which is basically the main lockdown criteria.

      1. I do not argue against vaccination. It has a huge value when we talk about the 60+ yo groups, sensitive groups, about reducing pressure on hospitals, etc. But I urge everyone to look at the data carefully and not to fall into a trap and start repeating the populist type mantra “vaccinate all at all cost, it will save the world” or “all problems are coming from those who does not want to vaccinate” , etc. Learn first what vaccine can and cannot do and then implement this scientific info into policies. Thus far it is the vaccinated people who are more potent transmitters of the virus – travellers, restaurant and hotel guests, etc all without or with mild symptoms.

      2. “Waterford has the highest rate of vaccination in the country with 99.7 per cent of adults over the age of 18 (as registered in the last census) fully vaccinated. The county has gone from having one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 infection in Ireland to one of the highest.”
        https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/waterford-city-district-has-state-s-highest-rate-of-covid-19-infections-1.4707344?fbclid=IwAR31ijOHuTyyafLwmqoIg67C16cbaNq4qxRl95s2FpFIDBfWRB9WNE56Mcg

        1. You have provided number for extremely specific cases that do not apply anywhere else. Such cherry picking is a sign of clear bias – towards which you are trying to twist the data.

          Even the PDF you’ve linked to, contains completely different numbers in its main conclusion and the specific table you’ve linked to is followed by a warning not to use the numbers in it for calculating vaccine effectiveness as they are unadjusted for real world situations.

  2. I´m at pains to understand why politicians in Germany are scaremongering with terms like “humanitarian catastrophe” when the country is just now experiencing the same number of daily infections that the UK has had for at least 3 months now, rising and falling with a similar percentage of the population fully vaccinated. Yet the majority of people there and the Health service are not talking in those terms. Granted, they are not ignoring the problem either, but where are those many thousands of extra beds Germany was so proud of last year?

    1. Germany has lost 4000 beds since the pandemic. The news cited the root cause is that more doctors and nurses have resigned.

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