‘Christmas will be ruined if we don’t act now’, warns head of German health agency

The President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has painted an alarming picture of the Covid-19 situation in Germany, warning that Christmas will be ruined if tough measures aren’t taken immediately. 

'Christmas will be ruined if we don't act now', warns head of German health agency
Lothar Wieler, RKI President, holds up a graphic with the latest Covid figures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

The usually reserved head of the RKI, Lothar Wieler could not disguise his frustration about Germany’s rapidly worsening Covid situation – and called for clubs and bars to be closed.

He told Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) that “we will have a very bad Christmas if we don’t start taking countermeasures now” in an online discussion on Wednesday evening. 

“There is an emergency in our country. Anyone who doesn’t see that is making a very big mistake,” he said.

READ ALSO: Germany is in the grip of ‘dramatic’ Covid situation, says Merkel

On Thursday morning, the RKI reported a nationwide 7-day incidence of 336.9 – an increase from 319,5 the previous day. Germany also reported 65,371 new Covid infections within a day: the first time this number has gone above 60,000 since the start of the pandemic. 

But Wieler also warned that the under-reporting of new infections is intensifying, saying that “there are at least twice or three times as many” as the official figures show. 

Hospitals overrun

The RKI chief also gave a worrying assessment of the situation in the nation’s hospitals, saying “we have never been as worried as we are now”.

He said that the number of critically ill Covid patients is rising. In some places, people who have had strokes – or other serious conditions – have to spend up to two hours searching for a free intensive care bed, Wieler said.

READ ALSO: ‘‘No capacity’: Bavarian hospital transfers patient to Italy

Wieler accused politicians of  making serious errors in their handling of the pandemic.

“We opened up too quickly in too many areas…clubs and bars are hotspots, from my point of view they have to be closed,” he said.

He also pleaded for “every man and mouse” who is eligible for vaccination to get their jabs, and for the enforcement of 2G rules, which means access to many public areas is only for the vaccinated (geimpft) and people who’ve recently recovered from Covid (genesen).

“We really can’t give those who don’t get vaccinated the chance to bypass vaccination, for example, by getting free tests,” Wieler said.

As of Wednesday, 56.4 million people (67.8 percent of the total population) were fully vaccinated. In total, at least 58.4 million people (70.3 percent) have received at least one dose.

Wieler also recommended that, to increase the pace of jabs, including booster vaccines, vaccinations should also be available in pharmacies.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now