German government advisory panel urges fresh Covid measures to fight Omicron

Fresh measures are urgently needed in Germany to fight the surge in the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, a government advisory group has said.

People enjoy a Christmas market in Frankfurt.
People enjoy a Christmas market in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

The experts warned in a report released Sunday of a growing risk that “critical infrastructure” such as hospitals, security, the health services and basic utilities could be disrupted if further steps are not taken.

“If the spread of the Omicron variant in Germany continues as it has, a significant part of the population will fall sick and/or will go into quarantine simultaneously,” the report by the 19-member panel said.

The report did not raise the spectre of a new confinement but urged “strong reductions in contacts” within the populace in “the coming days”.

Omicron has given a “new dimension” to the pandemic because it is “infecting many more people in a very short time and affects more of the recovered and the vaccinated”, the experts said.

The variant could lead to an “explosive spread”, with cases doubling within two to four days, the experts projected.

Earlier Sunday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach ruled out a lockdown “before Christmas” such as that ordered in the Netherlands, and said it was unlikely after the holidays.

On Friday, Lauterbach said he was bracing for a “massive wave” of the Omicron variant.

The experts’ report called for “complete and immediate preparation” to protect Germany’s critical infrastructure.

It said “control mechanisms need to be available in the short term”, while testing capacity and adequate supply chains must be ensured.

A number of restrictions are in place in Germany, notably affecting the unvaccinated who are barred from most public places.

A surge in infections of the Delta variant that started in early autumn has abated but between 30,000 and 50,000 new cases are recorded every 24 hours.

Around 70 percent of the German population are now fully vaccinated.

Germany restricts travel from UK

Meanwhile Germany’s health authority announced late Saturday that Britain had been added to its list of Covid high-risk countries, which will mean tighter travel restrictions.

The decision is a response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, which forced London’s mayor Sadiq Khan to declare a “major incident” on Saturday in the British capital.

As a result of the change, enforceable from Sunday midnight, arrivals from Britain must now observe a two-week quarantine regardless of whether they are vaccinated, said the country’s health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The United Kingdom is now considered a “variant zone” of Covid-19, a category reserved for nations where the risk is the highest.

READ ALSO: Germany adds UK to ‘virus variant’ list

More than 65,000 new Covid cases were confirmed in London over the past seven days, with 26,418 cases reported in the last 24 hours – the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

Several other European countries, including France, have already taken steps to limit the entry of travellers from the United Kingdom.

German authorities have placed France and Denmark among the “high risk” contamination zones, a level below the UK.

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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