‘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 to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

With infection numbers shooting up once again in Germany, states are set to bring in a new set of Covid measures on October 1st.

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?