Germany on Friday reported 48,640 Covid infections within 24 hours, and 191 deaths. The seven-day incidence climbed for the fifth day in a row to 263.7 Covid infections per 100,000 residents.
The number of Covid patients in Germany being admitted to hospitals is going up, but still far below the nationwide level seen in the second peak late last year and earlier this year.
But doctors have warned that some intensive care units cannot cope. Hospitals – including the Charite in Berlin – are having to cancel planned operations in order to relocate staff to busy wards.
In a marked change in communication, the RKI said in its weekly report that action was needed from everyone in Germany to help ease the current development.
The public health institute called on people to “urgently cancel or avoid larger events if possible, but also to reduce all other unnecessary contacts”.
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The RKI said if this can’t be avoided, then “regardless of vaccination or recovery status, people should take a test beforehand and use the Corona warning app.”
“It’s five minutes past midnight,” warned Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country’s health agency, adding that he himself would be skipping next month’s New Year’s parties.
Several German cities kicked off months-long carnival celebrations on Thursday, with revellers required to prove they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid before entering the party zones.
The country’s much-loved Christmas market season is also on its way.
But Wieler said large gatherings “must be viewed very critically” and in some situations “clearly should be cancelled”.
Indoor celebrations especially can act as superspreader events “and everyone must really think about whether they want to expose themselves to that risk,” he told reporters in Berlin.
“I personally won’t be attending New Year’s Eve parties. But I urge people not to wait until then to think about their actions.”
The RKI predicts that the “strong increase” in Covid cases will continue in the next weeks “if the population does not help to reduce the current infection pressure on everyone, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, by voluntarily reducing potentially infectious contacts in the private sphere and observing the basic measures in all other areas of life”.
Health experts said both vaccinated and unvaccinated people should continue to wear face masks indoor in public places, keep their distance and regularly ventilate rooms where several people are present.
The RKI said it is also “absolutely necessary” for everyone – regardless of vaccination – to stay at home if they have respiratory illnesses such as a cold or cough. They advise people to contact a doctor and request a PCR test.
“The current case numbers are already higher than any previously recorded at the peak of previous waves of the disease,” the RKI said.
Christian Karagiannidis, scientific director of the Intensive Care Register of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI), said in an interview with Tagesschau24 that the Covid situation had been underestimated in Germany.
He said everyone seemed to have the feeling that the pandemic was coming to an end.
But in some places – like Bavaria, Thuringia and Saxony – the increase in Covid-19 cases is exponential, he said, adding: “That pains us enormously at the moment.”
Medical experts say one of the biggest problems is that not enough people are getting vaccinated against Covid. Meanwhile, the booster jab campaign has faltered partly due to mixed messages from the German government and vaccine advisory panel.
Around 70 percent of the German population has received at least one jab, and just over 67 percent are fully vaccinated.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said that unvaccinated people in Germany should reflect on their duty to protect others.
Speaking via video link at an Asia-Pacific business summit, Merkel said “We have to make it clear that I have the right to get vaccinated, and that is a great fortune, a huge achievement of science and technology.
“But I also have a certain obligation to contribute to protecting society”.
The RKI reiterated its call urging people to get their shots.
“According to current knowledge, all vaccines that are currently available in Germany effectively protect the vast majority of vaccinated persons from severe disease when fully vaccinated,” the RKI said.
Health Minister Jens Spahn, speaking alongside Wieler in Berlin, said the situation in Germany “is serious”.
He recommended that large gatherings be made safer by requiring the vaccinated and recovered to test negative before taking part, while barring the unvaccinated altogether — a system dubbed “2G Plus” in Germany.
Germany will re-introduce free rapid coronavirus testing for all in coming days, he said.
The federal government and leaders of Germany’s 16 regional states are meeting next Thursday to discuss joint measures to combat the pandemic, following criticisms of a confusing patchwork of different restrictions emerging.
Among the proposed measures are stricter curbs on the unvaccinated, for instance by excluding them from indoor dining or venues such as cinemas, gyms and theatres — which some states are already doing.
“We must do everything needed to break the current trend,” Spahn said.
“Otherwise the nation will experience a bitter December.”