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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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