Germany won’t have Covid-free summer, says top virologist

German virologist Christian Drosten says face masks should remain in place over summer to help shield against Covid infections.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.
Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Germany has been seeing a drop in the number of Covid infections as the Omicron wave eases. 

But Drosten, of the Berlin Charité Hospital, said he didn’t expect a summer completely free of Covid worries. 

“Last year, with the warm temperatures, the incidence went down very quickly,” said Drosten. “But we are unlikely to make much headway with the current vaccination progress and we have significant infection activity from Omicron. So I expect that there will not be an infection-free summer.”

Drosten pointed out that in South Africa, for example, the Omicron wave had risen steeply in the middle of summer.

“I don’t think we will see an unruly wave in our country in the summer,” he said. “But you will be able to catch this Omicron virus even in summer.”

The advice from the head of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital: keep masks mandatory indoors. “Wearing an FFP2 mask indoors is certainly the most efficient measure to maintain in the long run,” he said.

READ ALSO: German public health authority warns of Omicron subtype risk

On Wednesday, the RKI reported a 7-day incidence of Covid infections of 1,171.9 per 100,000 people.

Local authorities in Germany reported 186,406 new Covid infections and 301 deaths within the latest 24-hour period. 

What will happen next autumn?

With a view to temperatures dropping again later in the year, Drosten said he believed there would be a Covid winter wave.

Although he hopes this will not be accompanied by a severe burden of disease among the population, there will still be a danger of many people having to take time off work to recover from Covid at the same time. 

“The pandemic is not only over when the severity of the disease is cut off by vaccination, but when certain modifications in the population also end this high transmissibility,” he said.

By modifications, Drosten is pointing to people getting mucosal immunity, which everyone acquires against flu viruses, for example, without major intervention in the course of their lives. This means that repeated infections form a barrier against the pathogen on the mucous membrane, so that the virus can no longer be passed on so easily.

In terms of time alone, it will not be possible to reach this point by next winter, because lasting mucosal immunity takes a few attempts, said Drosten.

But he added: “Acquiring natural infection, especially in the vaccinated younger population over time, is key to ending the pandemic.”

However, this form of immune acquisition should only be done on the basis of full vaccination and gradually. He said it needs to be moderated and authorities must moderate how at-risk groups can be exempted and protected from this process, for instance through pre-planned access to antiviral drugs.

The current uncertainty factor in the pandemic is the BA.2, a subtype of the Omicron variant. In neighbouring Denmark, this type is already dominant. According to the weekly report of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) from last week, the proportion of BA.2 cases detected in Germany was 24 percent of the total number of infections. 

Meanwhile, Drosten and his podcast colleague Sandra Ciesek are to air the last episode of the Coronavirus Update podcast on NDR at the end of March – almost exactly two years after the first episode.

Germany is phasing out the majority of Covid restrictions this month. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid reopening plan

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Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules acros the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

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