Speaking to German broadcaster ZDF, Lauterbach said he expects “that the wave will roughly peak in mid-February and that we must then expect several hundred thousand cases per day”.
He added that it was not certain that these scenarios would occur, but “they have the greatest probability”.
Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, told the Markus Lanz programme that there were some countries that could cope with these kinds of numbers in intensive care units. But in Germany the situation is different.
“Since we have a high number of unvaccinated elderly people in Germany, things can turn out quite differently here than in Italy, France or England, for example,” Lauterbach said.
In England, for instance, the number of unvaccinated people in the over-50s group is one to two per cent. “These are values that we cannot come close to,” said Lauterbach.
Around 88 percent of people aged 60 and over in Germany are vaccinated, with 71.1 percent boosted, data shows.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported more than 100,000 new infections within a day for the first time in Germany on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the RKI reported more than 133,000 infections within the latest 24 hour period.
So far, however, the wave triggered by the virus variant Omicron is not reflected in intensive care units. According to the medical association DIVI, the number of Covid-19 patients there has dropped from around 5,000 to 2,664 since the first half of December.
Experts say comparatively few elderly people, who are more likely to develop severe illness from Covid, have been infected so far in the Omicron wave.
Lauterbach said the current fairly low hospitalisation rate was an “irrelevant snapshot”, because the wave currently underway in England and France was yet to come in Germany.
“I would expect the real burden on the intensive care units in the middle, end of February,” he said. “That is still a month away – and then I hope that it will still look good. That will be the stress test, not what we are seeing now.”
PCR tests ‘to be restricted’
Lauterbach also confirmed plans to restrict PCR tests in Germany in future.
As The Local reported, health ministers discussed earlier this week on the possibility of limiting PCR tests to people with Covid-19 symptoms, vulnerable groups and people in frontline jobs like health workers.
As infections rise in Germany, laboratories and test centres are struggling to process the number of tests.
Lauterbach said he planned to put together a regulation this weekend on the prioritisation PCR tests amid the high demand.
“We will actually get such high numbers of cases that we will have to allocate the PCR tests, have to prioritise,” he said. “I will present a proposal this weekend on how this should happen.”
“It is very clear that hospital employees, nursing staff, people in integration assistance, or those who care for the disabled – they must be given special consideration.”