What’s the latest on the pandemic in Germany?
Olaf Scholz was sworn in as the new Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, taking over from Merkel who held the role for 16 years. And the hard work starts immediately – particularly when it comes to the pandemic.
Germany is still in the grip of the fourth Covid wave. More than 70,600 infections were reported on Thursday within the last 24 hours. The 7-day incidence stood at 422.3 cases per 100,000 people. There are fears over the Omicron variant making the situation worse.
New Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, known for calling for a hard line on Covid measures said in an interview on Wednesday with broadcaster ZDF that the new challenge for Germany was to make sure people are protected against the Omicron variant.
He said the aim is to keep the variant from becoming dominant in Germany for as long as possible – and he stressed that vaccination “is only complete when you have been vaccinated three time” – ie when people have had a booster shot.
In preliminary results published on Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine “is still effective in preventing Covid-19, also against Omicron, if it has been administered three times”.
But they warned that “the Omicron variant is probably not sufficiently neutralised after two doses”.
So what are these talks about on Thursday?
At the first federal-state meeting (known as the MPK in German) led by Chancellor Scholz, the Covid pandemic will be the most important topic, but it won’t be the only thing on the agenda.
Last week the federal and state governments, headed up by former Chancellor Merkel at the time, ordered nationwide 2G rules across the retail sector, leisure and cultural facilities. It means only vaccinated people and those who’ve recovered from Covid recently can enter many shops, museums and restaurants, for instance. People who choose not to get vaccinated are barred.
The governments also decided to allow states to go further if needed and order more closures. But some planned changes to the law have to happen for this.
Before Scholz joins the talks later in the afternoon, the heads of the federal states are consulting among themselves, chaired by North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier, Hendrik Wüst.
Wüst on Thursday advised against people travelling over Christmas during an interview with ARD’s morning news programme – so this may be something that is discussed, though it is not necessarily on the agenda.
“I advise everyone to hold back on dissolute trips and travelling long distances,” Wüst said, adding, that no travel was currently banned.
Meanwhile, Lower Saxony’s state premier Stephan Weil has called for tougher rules such as contact restrictions for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to be introduced after the festive period to help ease the situation.
The “numerous family contacts” during the holidays would, “according to all experience, also lead to a number of infections,” the SPD politician told Welt earlier this week.
“It is therefore worth considering whether the associated infection dynamics should be mitigated by a limited time-out.” He said that the regions where the health system is heavily overburdened should be given special consideration. Weil already made this suggestion at the end of November, speaking of an “extended Christmas break”.
Wüst said Weil’s call for a ‘Christmas quiet period’ in Germany would be looked at in detail.
What else can we expect this time?
Scholz, who has a busy schedule for his first full day as German leader, will meet with the premiers via video link.
Given the threat of the Omicron variant, the panel is also expected to discuss how to speed up booster vaccinations.
More than 991,608 booster shots were carried out on Wednesday – more than ever before. But there have been concerns from doctors over problems with deliveries of vaccines.
Scholz remained cautions when talking to media about the possibility of further measures.
“We had an agreement between the state premiers and the federal government last week,” he told broadcaster ARD. “The Bundestag is now discussing the implementation of all these measures. This is very far-reaching. Many things are now new that did not exist a year ago.”
Scholz said that included the nationwide 2G rules.
But the new Chancellor did not rule out the possibility of further measures in principle. He said the current situation would be “examined” and steps taken when needed.
Given last week’s extraordinary meeting it seems unlikely that drastic changes to Covid restrictions will be put in place on Thursday, but ideas will probably be discussed.
Other topics on the agenda include the entry of migrants to the EU via Belarus, and the actions German states should take. Scholz and state leaders will hold regular meetings covering the issues affecting Germany.