German hospitals ‘won’t get overwhelmed’ in Omicron wave

A high-profile medical expert expects Germany's health system to manage the Omicron wave of Covid-19 without becoming overwhelmed, fuelling more debate about easing restrictions.

A positive Covid-19 test at a test centre in Dresden
A positive Covid-19 test at a test centre in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

“I currently no longer expect the German health care system to be overloaded in the coming weeks,” Gerald Gaß, head of the German Hospital Association, told Bild newspaper. 

He said Germany’s current tough Covid-19 measures, which include the closure of clubs and barring unvaccinated people from most parts of public life, had “contributed significantly” to the Omicron wave not hitting the health system as hard as initially feared. 

Gaß said he believed the restrictions, such as 2G-plus in restaurants, should remain in place until the peak of the Omicron wave, which the government expects in one to two weeks.

After that he says there will no doubt be “gradual relaxations for the coming weeks”, he said.

Germany on Wednesday reported 234,350 Covid-19 infections and 272 deaths within the latest 24 hour period. The 7-day incidence reached 1,450.8 infections per 100,000 residents. 

According to the DIVI intensive care register, 2,390 Covid patients were in intensive care units across Germany on February 8th, with 1,174 receiving ventilation treatment. 

On Tuesday, Robert Koch Institute chief Lothar Wieler said Germany was nearing the “turning point” in the Omicron wave,

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

READ ALSO: Germany ‘facing a turning point in Omicron wave’

Calls have been growing for the government and states to put a plan together to reopen public life fully.

“Politicians must now develop a concept of what the opening steps should look like in concrete terms,” Ulrich Weigeldt, chairman of the German GP Association, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

“What must not happen is that hectic, inconsistent and not well thought-out relaxation measures are decided,” he urged.

Parliamentary group leader of the FDP in the Bundestag, Christian Dürr, told Bild that as soon as the danger of overburdening the health system no longer posed a threat, restrictions would have to be withdrawn.

“That is why we are also already talking about concrete opening perspectives,” he said.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: When will Germany relax its Covid restrictions?

Green Party politician Dieter Janecek said children must be considered first when it comes to easing restrictions.

“Children and youths finally need complete normality again, they should be the first to benefit from openings,” he said, urging all restrictions to be dropped for youth sports and clubs.

The next Covid summit between the government and states is scheduled for February 16th. 

Member comments

  1. Indeed. The mandate for masks for the kids in school, especially after they are constantly tested, needs to go. Forcing children to wear masks is simply child abuse and cannot be viewed as anything else at this point in the pandemic. They will not die and are nearly universal in having asymptomatic or extremely mild infections. If they spread it to the adults in their homes, oh well. Adults should be vaccinated. Especially older ones. If you’re not, it’s nobody’s fault but your own and stop punishing everyone else in society for your poor choices.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.