“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.”