‘Difficult weeks ahead,’ warns German Health Minister on Omicron fears

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned on Sunday that Germany faces a high death toll and major impact on hospital treatment in the current wave of Covid cases with the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health, comments on the current Corona situation at the Federal Press Conference. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld
Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health, comments on the current Corona situation at the Federal Press Conference. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“We are facing very difficult weeks in Germany,” Lauterbach told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“We must not lull ourselves into a false sense of security in view of the currently falling hospital numbers, especially in intensive care units,” he added.

Pointing out that most cases were currently being recorded among younger people, he said that hospital admissions would rise again when older Germans contract the latest variant of the virus.

“Depending on how things develop, we may face shortages not only in the intensive care units, but also in the normal wards. There is a threat of entire departments being closed,” Lauterbach warned.

“Rapid spread of the virus would mean hundreds of thousands will become seriously ill and we will have to mourn many thousands of deaths again,” he said.

New record in case numbers

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported another peak in the seven-day incidence of cases on Sunday morning.

The number of new cases per 100,000 people and week broke the 500 barrier for the first time since the start of the pandemic, rising to 515.7.

Health authorities in Germany reported 52,504 new infections to the RKI within one day.

“We are already seeing this increase in normal wards in some regions, for example in Bremen, Berlin, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein,” the president of the German Hospital Association, Gerald Gaß, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

“In contrast to previous waves, patients will probably arrive in normal wards more frequently in the coming weeks, as the probability of having a severe course is lower with Omicron,” he added.

Omicron is a ‘chance’

Germany’s most respected coronavirus expert, Christian Drosten, told a newspaper the milder Omicron variant of the coronavirus is an “chance” to get into the endemic state of the disease.

“It would be a chance now, assuming broad immunity,” Drosten told Tagesspiegel newspaper.

“In the long run, we can’t keep immunising the whole population every few months via a booster vaccination. That’s what the virus has to do,” he said.

“The virus has to spread, but it has to do so on the basis of a vaccination protection that is anchored in the broad population – otherwise too many people would die.”

READ MORE: What documents do you need to carry for Germany’s 2G-plus restrictions?

Member comments

    1. Dr John Campbell. Youtube video about omicron. Its spread in Germany and the UK. How Scotland has more restrictions than England. Yet higher cases. With links to his data sources.

      We get Karl Lauterbach doom monger extraordinar.

  1. how exactly is he able to predict anything? what data does he have about how this will play out? fear-mongering seems to be his favorite approach, regardless of the outcome.

  2. Is this guy dreaming? Then again, appoint a fanatic as minister of health and this is what you’re bound to get.

  3. If you want sensible, unbiased information look for info put out by John Campbell. He’s been around years and provides evidence to back up what he presents.

  4. Lauterbach has been preaching COVID doom and gloom since he took office.

    Assumes the very worst scenario. Claims “hundreds of thousands” will become seriously ill and “thousands” will die. Based upon what data?? Omicron is less severe than Delta. What a fear monger.

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Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

As the weather warms up and tourism returns to Germany, this spring feels more normal than the last two years. So what is the pandemic situation in Germany - and how will it develop?

Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

Covid cases falling – but lots of unreported infections

The number of Covid infections in Germany has been falling recently, according to official figures. On Tuesday, 107,568 Covid infections were logged within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 218 deaths. The 7-day incidence fell to 522.7 infections per 100,000 people. 

The Robert Koch Institute’s weekly report from May 5th stated: “The peak of the current wave has clearly been passed, many hospitalisation indicators and and deaths continue to decrease.”

But experts warned that “the infection pressure remains high with almost 600,000 Covid-19 cases transmitted to the RKI within the last week”.

It’s worth keeping in mind that many cases of Covid are going unreported. 

Johannes Nießen, chairman of the Federal Association of Public Health Service Physicians, told Tagesschau: “Many rapid tests are not confirmed by PCR testing. And since only PCR testing is included in the incidence-value calculation, we assume that the incidence value is at least twice as high as reported.”

READ ALSO: Germany reports no Covid deaths: What does it mean?

Changes to testing 

There was a time a few months ago when you had to queue for a long time to get a Covid test in Germany. But after the testing priorities changed (with a focus on PCR testing for key workers and vulnerable groups) and Covid restrictions were eased, test stations became quieter. 

And at the end of May, there will be another key change – government-funded Schnelltests will no longer be free to the public. So it won’t be possible to run to your nearest test station to check on your infection status if you think you have Covid. You’ll either need to buy a self-test or pay for a test at the centre. 

A pop-up Covid testing station in Münich.

A pop-up Covid testing station in Münich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

… but there are still Covid restrictions in place 

The so-called 3G and 2G rules – meaning people had to show some kind of proof to enter a venue like a restaurant – are no longer in place across Germany. 

Mask rules were also relaxed around the beginning of April.

But people in Germany still have to wear a Covid mask on public transport as well as long-distance trains and planes. They also remain in places where there are lots of vulnerable people such as hospitals, care homes and shelters for the homeless.

Some independent businesses and organisations can, however, ask visitors to wear a mask or take a test. 

Covid isolation rules are still in place but they have changed, too.

Now people who get a positive Covid test have to isolate for at least five days. They have the possibility to end it after five days if they haven’t had symptoms for 48 hours, or with a negative test (depending on the state rules). If symptoms or positive test results persist, isolation can last a maximum of 10 days. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

Reinfections on the rise

It is unclear exactly how many people have been infected more than once. But figures from the Baden-Württemberg state health office show that cases of reinfection are increasing. In December 2021, the share of reinfections in the south-west state stood at 0.5 percent, and in April it rose to 3.6 percent. However, these are only the numbers that have been reported. 

Experts say the reason for the increase in reinfections since the beginning of the year is the Omicron variant. Virologist Martin Stürmer told Tagesschau: “In the beginning, we had the variants Alpha to Delta. The variants were so similar that the antibodies continued to provide good protection against infection or reinfection after vaccination or infection.

“With the Omicron variant, however, the virus has changed so much that this is no longer the case, so that reinfections occur more frequently despite vaccination, boosting or recovery status.”

However, Stürmer said vaccination does protect against severe illness. 

Within the Omicron variant, reinfection with the BA.2 sub-variant after an infection with BA.1 is rare, according to Stürmer. 

Although Omicron has been shown to cause less severe illness in the population in general, ‘long Covid’ – where symptoms persist for a longer period of time – is still a concern and something experts in Germany are watching closely. 

What about new variants?

Experts are urging people to be aware that new variants could emerge in the current climate. 

Stürmer said it’s important to keep in mind that “by allowing a lot of infection, we also allow the emergence of new variants, because basically the mutation rate is higher if we allow a lot of infection”.

“The virus changes,” he added, “and it may be that at some point there will be another variant that challenges us more.”

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said in April that he expected the pandemic situation to be more relaxed in the summer. But he warned of possible waves and future variants in autumn.