Germany must brace for ‘unstoppable’ Omicron wave, warn scientists

Germany has to be prepared for a new wave fuelled by the more transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19, scientists say.

The centre of Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt.
The centre of Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

As Covid infections have been easing off in Germany in the last week or so, we’ve all been hoping that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

But experts say the country is facing another huge challenge – the Omicron variant of Covid. 

They say politicians need to act fast to try and prevent the spread and limit damage as far as possible. 

In an interview with Germany’s Tagesschau, high profile virologist Sandra Ciesek, from the University Hospital Frankfurt, warned against “running into a catastrophe with our eyes wide open”.

The most research on the variant has been carried out in South Africa, where the strain was first detected. Reports there suggest disease caused by Omicron may be less severe than other strains, although it is more transmissible. 

However, experts warned against taking this for granted in Germany. “We don’t have systematic data for Germany yet, nor do we know how severe the diseases are,” Ciesek said.

“You can’t really say anything for sure about the severity of the disease in our country yet, and we shouldn’t compare ourselves one-on-on with South Africa either.” She said different factors include that the population is younger on average, and the previous infection rate is much higher than in Germany. 

Berlin-based scientific modeller Dirk Brockmann called for a contingency plan from policymakers on how to respond to different scenarios.

According to modelling studies, Germany can expect a development similar to the UK and Denmark, where the number of cases have skyrocketed.

In the UK, Omicron cases are said to be doubling every two days. 

In Germany cases are still relatively low, although climbing. From November 29th to December 5th for instance, a total of 44 Omicron cases were recorded in Germany, but experts say many remain unreported. 

“I fear that Omicron will lead to an increase in infection figures again in two to three weeks at the latest, probably also in hospital admissions,” said epidemiologist Gérard Krause from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig.

“At the moment, Omicron is still rare in Europe,” said Richard Neher, head of the Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria research group at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel (Switzerland), in an interview published on the university’s website on Monday.

“But if the evolution continues like this, Omicron will be dominant in Europe in about two to four weeks.”

Will there be tighter measures?

The German state of Lower Saxony announced last week that it would be putting in a place a mini partial lockdown between Christmas and New Year to try and reduce contacts due to concern over Omicron.

It’s led to speculation that other states may also consider this action. 

READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a Christmas ‘partial lockdown’?

Christoph Neumann-Haefelin, head of the Translational Virus Immunology research group at the University Hospital of Freiburg also estimates that Omicron will establish itself firmly in Germany by mid-January.

“I hope that politicians will find answers to the worst case scenario,” said Neumann-Haefelin.

Ciesek urged politicians not to solely rely on boosters in the fight against Omicron.

“At the moment, I have the feeling that what is being conveyed is: get boosted and the world will be fine again. It’s not like that,” she said. 

The EU health agency ECDC on Wednesday warned that vaccinations alone would not stop the rise of the Omicron variant and said “strong action” was urgently needed.

The booster campaign has been stepped up in Germany in recent weeks, with almost a million people getting their shots on some days. 

But German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach revealed this week that the country is on track to experience shortages of Covid vaccines in January. He said he was working on a solution.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister warns of vaccine shortages in January

Member comments

  1. They should order Covaxin from India. It is WHO approved and they are making something like 50 million doses a day.

    1. According to the data, the vaccine was about 77.8% effective at preventing systematic disease from COVID. THat’s as good as J&J’s single shot vaccine, which now, has approximately a 10% efficacy against the Omicron variant. I would guess this inactivated vaccine has a similar efficacy, which is to say, useless. I would argue we need to continue with the mRNA vaccines. Besides, India needs to start vaccinating its own people.

        1. if that’s all they have…yes. I’ve been told they were given the formula for AZ and promptly started selling it for profit rather than vaccinating their people. What can you say, no good deed goes unpunished.

        2. I would say it is less useful to prevent from infection of Omicron, but still quite useful against hospitalisation and severe symptoms.
          And Covaxin is the same as AstraZeneca.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now