Pandemic in Germany ‘may not end in spring’, says top virologist

Health experts and politicians had hoped the pandemic would come to an end in Germany by Easter 2022. But the new Omicron variant may complicate matters, says virologist Christian Drosten.

A sign telling travellers to wear a mask at a train station in Kassel, Hesse.
A sign telling travellers to wear a mask at a train station in Kassel, Hesse. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

According to Drosten, the pandemic in Germany could drag on for some time – even after spring next year when experts had predicted it would turn into an endemic.

Speaking on his Coronavirus Update podcast, Drosten said the future course of the crisis depends on the spread of the Covid-19 variant Omicron. 

READ ALSO: Germany will overcome pandemic by spring 2022

In South Africa, the infection growth rates are high despite the start of summer there. “And that’s why I wouldn’t say at the moment that the pandemic will be over in Germany by Easter, when Omicron takes over,” said Drosten, who is based at Berlin’s Charité Hospital.

The variant B.1.1.529, first detected in southern Africa, has been classified as a strain “of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The EU health authority ECDC fears that the variant could significantly reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, and increase the risk of re-infection. However, the exact impact of the variant has not yet been determined.

“I think from January we will have a problem with Omicron in Germany,” Drosten said. The variant will probably make it necessary to “adapt existing vaccines”, he said.

Virologist Christian Drosten.
Virologist Christian Drosten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Omicron is the most heavily mutated version of coronavirus found so far.

A WHO official on Wednesday said existing vaccines should still protect people who contract the Omicron variant from severe illness. 

Meanwhile, a study by the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, which has not yet been peer reviewed, found the Omicron variant can partially evade protection from two doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.

Scientists said vaccination, combined with previous infection, could still neutralise against the variant. That suggests boosters may bring a significant benefit. Research is still ongoing. 

According to Drosten, a new generation of adapted vaccines could possibly be used from the second quarter of 2022.

How much has Omicron spread in Germany?

Drosten said he was aware of about 25 to 30 cases of Omicron in Germany after speaking to colleagues. But he said that the number is not the full picture – and that cases will increase rapidly. 

The virus seems to be “extremely capable of spreading”, he said. Last Thursday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) told of four confirmed cases in Germany.

READ ALSO: How widespread is the Omicron variant in Germany?

Drosten again called for closing the vaccination gaps.

As of Wednesday, 69.2 percent of the population was fully vaccinated against Covid.

The federal and state governments have set the goal of administering up to 30 million jabs by the end of the year.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, 14.6 million people in Germany have so far received a booster vaccination. Jab-uptake has seen a huge boost in recent weeks. 

But doctors’ associations say they are struggling to get Covid vaccines delivered reliably.

“At this rate, the target of 30 million vaccinations by Christmas is not fully realistic,” Andreas Gassen, chairman of the board of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

Former Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) reassured ZDF on Tuesday that there were enough vaccine doses to reach the target.

Member comments

  1. May. Might. Possibly. Some Scientist. They are supposed to deal in FACTS, not supposition. I begin to think that this guy just loves the limelight too much.
    How about they wait UNTIL we have positive evidence of how much of a threat this varient really is. After all you cannot wear a Mask MORE if it is more virulent, you either wear it properly, or not.

  2. If you want to control people, keep them in fear. This has no evidence of anything but fear mongering as far as I can tell.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”