“I believe we currently have the Omicron wave well under control,” said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) at a press conference on Friday.
Lauterbach said all efforts were being directed at keeping the number of deaths as low as possible.
The goal is to get through the wave “with as few severe cases and deaths as possible”, he said.
“We have a special problem in Germany: a very old population, the second oldest in Europe after Italy, and on top of that we have a very high number of unvaccinated people in this age group,” said Lauterbach.
Among the over-60s, four times as many people as in Britain ,and three times as many as in Italy are not protected by vaccines, he said.
However, Lauterbach said Germany was faring well at the moment in the Covid wave sweeping the country.
The 7-day incidence of infections is currently 1,000 on average in Germany, and in some cases as high as 2,000 among younger people.
“But among the vulnerable group we are targeting, it is between 200 and 300. And that is our success,” said Lauterbach.
The minister expects the daily number of infections to double to 400,000 by mid-February when Omicron will peak.
Lauterbach raised concerns about the slow uptake on booster jabs.
Since Omicron is considered milder, many people mistakenly believe that boosters are not needed, he said, adding that after a booster the risk of death decreases by 99 per cent compared to unvaccinated people.
“Please get boosted, you are doing yourself the biggest favour you can do,” he said.
Pushing for general vaccine mandate
Ahead of next autumn, Lauterbach said the aim was to “avert a relapse by making vaccination compulsory across the board”.
This is necessary, he said, because the constant appeals are not closing the 12 percent vaccination gap among the over-60s.
“We want to prevent another Omicron wave,” Lauterbach said.
Lauterbach was joined at the press conference by the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, and lung specialist Christian Karagiannidis of the German Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine DIVI.
Wieler said that the number of cases had clearly risen sharply, “but nowhere near as sharply as could be possible under Omicron”.
However, the head of the RKI sees no reason to sound the all-clear as Omicron is still heading to its peak.
In the past seven days, 890,000 people have been infected – one percent of the population, said Wieler, adding that every third PCR test is positive. In this “new phase of the pandemic”, however, the number of cases is less of an issue because of the overall milder effects of the disease.
Yet there is an impact on hospitals.
The 7-day incidence of Covid hospitalisations is 7.5 per 100,000 people – and rising. “Hospitals are already feeling the effects of this,” Wieler said.
Although Omicron is less likely to cause severe cases than Delta, “the sheer number of people infected” means that more admissions, including of older people, must be expected, he said.
Karagiannidis said there were currently just over 2,000 Covid patients in intensive care units, and said this was an “acceptable” level. For comparison, at the peak of Delta, there were around 5,000 patients in ICUs.
But Covid is still causing major disruption. In regular hospital wards, for example in North Rhine-Westphalia, Omicron is resulting in the “strongest increase in Covid patients since the beginning of the pandemic”, said Karagiannidis.
And future developments are unclear. “I’m more afraid of the coming winter than this one,” said Karagiannidis.