“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.
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.
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.