Germany must prepare for ‘massive’ Omicron wave, warns Health Minister

Germany, battered by a recent rise in Covid cases, is facing a "massive fifth wave" due to the new Omicron variant, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Friday.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks on Friday.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

“We must prepare for a challenge that we have not yet had in this form,” Lauterbach told a press conference in Hanover, adding that even if the variant were “milder” it may make “no difference”.

Lauterbach said the situation is still “underestimated”.

He said he was watching the the UK closely where Omicron has become widespread, and the number of new cases is now doubling every one to two days.

Lauterbach said British experts have reported to him that they have not seen a situation develop like this in the pandemic so far. 

READ ALSO: German politician calls for UK to be named ‘virus variant’ area

The spread of Omicron in Germany can no longer be prevented, Lauterbach said. Experts estimate there are already hundreds of Omicron cases in Germany. 

Lauterbach said it was still uncertain whether the variant causes a milder course of the disease than previous Covid-19 strains. However, even if the disease is milder, the Health Minister said there would still be a danger because of the sheer number of infections happening at the same time, which would affect more vulnerable people. 

“It would perhaps keep the number of deaths low for two or three weeks. But then the growth of cases would eat up this advantage,” he said, adding that it would be a “great challenge” for hospitals, intensive care units and society as a whole.

Lauterbach said Omicron “cannot be brought under control” by having two jabs alone. 

“We must not lull ourselves into a false sense of security,” he said.

Therefore, a “massive booster campaign” is needed with the aim of “boosting several million people per week”, said Lauterbach, adding that he would try to procure extra vaccine doses for this purpose “with all means” in the coming days.

The official recommendation from Germany’s vaccine panel (STIKO) is for a six-month interval between your last dose and booster shot.

But Lauterbach said he expects a new decision on that soon to shorten the gap. In many areas across Germany, boosters are possible after five months, or even earlier, he said. 

Expert Covid-19 council

The new expert council set up by the federal government is assessing the risk of the Omicron variant and is likely to issue a statement next week, authorities said.

READ ALSO: Hold Christmas parties in Germany online, says RKI

Germany has reimposed health restrictions following high case numbers, barring unvaccinated individuals from restaurants and non-essential commerce.

Robert Koch Institute (RKI) President Lothar Wieler warned on Thursday that Covid infections in Germany were declining too slowly in view of the feared new wave caused by Omicron.

Member comments

  1. All we need is a 3rd jab for the 5th wave of Omicron, followed by a 7th jab for the 10th wave of Delta, and of course we all know we need the 24th jab for the original alpha currently in its 576th wave. Of course, keep your mask on at ALL times, do not look people in the face, and don’t do anything crazy like getting together with your friends. Remember: the next 2 weeks are ALWAYS critical!

  2. Lock the whole country down and fine those who break the rules.

    Or boost/support the health sector to facilitate the ‘doom and gloom’ you keep spouting.

    Alternatively? Let us get on with it; by keeping social distance, wearing masks, providing us with the booster shots….and stop scaremongering.

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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.”