Will Germany impose further Covid-19 measures?

Just a week has passed since Germany tightened Covid measures nationwide in a bid to get a grip on the fourth wave. Now another round of talks are being held by new Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state leaders. What can we expect?

A sign at a Christmas market in Hanover says entry is for vaccinated and recovered people who show a negative test (2G-plus).
A sign at a Christmas market in Hanover says entry is for vaccinated and recovered people who show a negative test (2G-plus). Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

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.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid rules to fight fourth wave

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. 

READ MORE: Could German states order bar and restaurant closures under new Covid laws?

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.

READ ALSO: Is travel to and from Germany possible over the Christmas holidays?

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. 

Member comments

  1. Now we reap the harvest of the slow roll out of the original jabs. I got my first & second absolutely as soon as I could, but because it took so long for me to become eligible for the first shot, the earliest I can get the booster jab is the end of January. I’m 65 so feel like I’m back to square 1 regarding protection. Hope this new lot are better than the last lot regarding making shots available.

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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.