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.
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.