Omicron likely to become dominant in Germany ‘within three weeks’

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is expected to become the dominant strain in Germany in the next "one, two or three weeks at the latest ," RKI chief Lothar Wieler said Wednesday.

RKI boss Lothar Wieler and German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at the press conference.
RKI boss Lothar Wieler and German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at the press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Speaking at a press conference, the President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said Omicron will take over as the dominant variant in Germany very soon.

Wieler said Covid cases in general have been declining “but unfortunately this is not a sign of an easing”.

“We have to get the still very high case numbers down,” he said, adding that a wave of infections was coming which threatens to overburden the health system.

In Germany, about 540 Omicron confirmed cases – and around 1,848 suspected cases – had been registered with the RKI so far. But most of this data is one to two weeks old, Wieler said.

“The trend is crystal clear: with numbers doubling roughly every three days, the new variant could account for the majority of all infection cases in our country in the next one, two, three weeks at the latest.”

He urged people to stay cautious over the holidays.

“Christmas must not be the spark that ignites the Omicron fire,” said Wieler. He therefore made an appeal to the population: “I urge you – spend Christmas in the smallest circle of the family.”

READ ALSO: The rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in Germany

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats (SPD), said there are now so many Omicron cases in Germany that “we have to assume that the Omicron wave can no longer be prevented”. 

But Lauterbach stressed that Germany will be able to get the situation under control. The German government and states ordered fresh measures to come into force after Christmas, including limits on social gatherings. 

READ ALSO: Germany agrees tougher Covid restrictions from December 28th

“The measures we have taken are working,” he said.

The most important tool is a “particularly offensive” booster vaccination campaign, Lauterbach said.

The booster strategy will not prevent the wave, “but it is the most important thing that can be done to prevent many people from becoming seriously ill”, said the Health Minister.

Current studies show that booster vaccinations are effective at protecting against infections and severe illness caused by the Omicron strain of Covid-19.

In contrast to the second jab, the protective effect of the booster vaccination sets in after only one week, according to the studies.

When it comes to symptomatic infections, the effectiveness of booster jabs is “somewhere between 70 and 80 percent”, Lauterbach said, while the protection against getting severely ill is probably “above 90 per cent”, he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the RKI had called for immediate tougher measures in Germany that included “maximum contact restrictions, maximum measures to protect against infection, maximum speed in vaccinating and reducing travel to what is absolutely necessary”.

The federal and state governments went against the call and the German media has subsequently reported a rift between the government and the RKI public health agency.

However, during the press conference Lauterbach said that the RKI is a “very important source”. He added: “We will work on communication.”

On Wednesday, the nationwide 7-day incidence was 289 Covid infections per 100,000 people. Health authorities in Germany reported 45,659 new Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period and there were 510 deaths. 

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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