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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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.”