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COVID-19 RULES

Germany facing a turning point in Omicron wave, says RKI chief

Head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) Lothar Wieler said Germany will "soon get through" the Omicron wave of Covid-19, and can look forward to a relaxed Easter.

RKI chief Lothar Wieler and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Tuesday.
RKI chief Lothar Wieler and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“We are facing a turning point,” said Wieler during the press conference with Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Tuesday. 

“I am optimistic that we will soon get through the Omicron wave, even if the peak of the wave has not yet been reached.

“We have navigated through this storm comparatively well so far.”

Compared to the previous dominant Covid variant – Delta – a smaller proportion of infected people are becoming seriously ill with Omicron, said Wieler.

But according to the head of the RKI, it is too early to sound the all-clear – because so far, mainly younger people have been hit in this wave while the incidence among older people is gradually rising.

The high number of unvaccinated people over the age of 60 continues to be a cause for concern, so Wieler called for the restrictions to slow the spread to remain in place to protect vulnerable groups and critical infrastructure.

“In a few weeks, we will have weathered the Omikron wave,” said Wieler. “Let’s stay calm and mindful and alert. And then we can relax and look forward to Easter.”

READ ALSO: Germany will relax Covid rules ‘well before Easter’, says Health Minister 

During the press conference, Health Minister Lauterbach spoke out against some region’s plans to relax Germany’s tough Covid restrictions while infections are still rocketing.

He said Germany should expect to reach the peak of the Omicron wave in mid-February or “possibly a little later”.

Lauterbach said the measures that have been taken by Germany to slow the wave of infections – including barring unvaccinated people from much of public life and the closure of clubs – were working. “So they are right.” he said. 

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He said significant reopening of public life would jeopardise the “functioning, successful strategy”, and prolong the wave. 

“We cannot support broad relaxations as they are currently being discussed at this point in time,” said Lauterbach, adding he is particularly concerned for older unvaccinated people in Germany. 

Lauterbach said he could envisage restrictions being eased well before the Easter holidays, which fall in April this year.

It came as Bavaria’s premier Markus Söder struck out on his own this week by announcing that a host of measures would be relaxed. 

He intends to scrap the nighttime curfew for restaurants, and increase the seating capacity in cultural and sporting venues.

Meanwhile, services like hair salons, tattoo parlous and beauticians will be able to operate under a 3G policy. This will allow unvaccinated people to use a negative test for entry, rather than a vaccination or recovery certificate (known as 2G rules).

Söder also plans to suspend compulsory vaccination for employees in the health and care sector in Bavaria. 

READ ALSO: Bavaria to postpone vaccine mandate for health and care workers

Lauterbach said Söder was sending a “dangerous signal”, but said he hoped the government could find a solution with the states for the implementation of the agreed law, which is due to come into force on March 15th. 

Lauterbach, a trained epidemiologist, also criticised medical staff who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid in the first place. 

“It can’t be acceptable that the staff in these facilities say: ‘we do not accept the state of western knowledge, I do not believe in vaccination’,” said Lauterbach, adding that it is “not really a justifiable position for medical staff”.

Member comments

  1. “The high number of unvaccinated people over the age of 60 continues to be a cause for concern, so Wieler called for the restrictions to slow the spread to remain in place to protect vulnerable groups and critical infrastructure.”

    NO! They have made their choice! Stop punishing the majority to “protect” the minority that made poor choices!

  2. Pingback: Anonymous
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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation

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