Germany in ‘national Covid emergency’, says Health Minister

Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn says Germany may be in "the most difficult phase of the pandemic" yet as intensive care wards overflow - and RKI boss Lothar Wieler has called for people in Germany 'to stay at home'.

Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn and RKI chief Lothar Wieler speak at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.
Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn and RKI chief Lothar Wieler speak at a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

In a press conference on Friday, Spahn said that as Germany’s intensive care units fill up with coronavirus patients – most of them unvaccinated – the country must prepare to transfer people to facilities that still have available beds, “including abroad”.

“We are entering a situation in which, for the first time, we will have to transfer patients across regions, possibly also to neighbouring countries,” said Spahn, who belongs to Angela Merkel’s CDU.

“It is ten past twelve,” Spahn said, indicating how serious the situation is. “We are in a national emergency that needs a joint national effort.”

Last week, a hospital in Freising, Bavaria, transferred two Covid intensive care patients to clinics in the Italian province of South Tyrol.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), said clinics and intensive care units are already at breaking point in many regions. “Medical care is no longer guaranteed there in some cases,” he said.

Asked whether Germany would consider a lockdown as announced in Austria Friday, Spahn said it was not on the table yet “but we shouldn’t rule anything out”.

“We have obviously not reached the peak” number of positive cases or hospitalisations, he said.

‘Stay at home’

The conference came after Germany agreed on changes to the Infection Protection Act, and a catalogue of new measures, including 3G rules on public transport and in the workplace. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter

But during Friday’s press conference, Wieler cast doubt on whether the new government restrictions would be enough to break a vicious fourth wave of the pandemic.

He said that with record-breaking infection levels, the nationwide curbs on the unvaccinated were insufficient.

As cases have topped 300 per 100,000 people, the rules for public spaces “are no longer enough in the current situation,” he said, calling it an “absolute emergency”.

Looking visibly distressed at times, Wieler called for big events to be cancelled, clubs and bars to be closed and private contacts limited to stop the spread of the virus.

Germans should “stay home when they can”, he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed Thursday to bar the unvaccinated from restaurants, sporting events and cultural shows after new cases soared to an all-time daily high of more than 65,000.


To protect the most vulnerable, they also agreed to introduce compulsory vaccination for healthcare workers and employees in elderly homes.

Spahn said that the government was stepping up supplies of vaccines, with five million jabs ordered for doctor’s offices next week to meet demand for booster doses.

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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.