Germany in ‘critical’ Covid situation, warns Health Minister

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says Germany is in a "critical situation" because many people are still falling seriously ill due to Covid-19.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), does a press conference with RKI chief Lothar Wieler on Friday.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), does a press conference with RKI chief Lothar Wieler on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

Lauterbach was providing an update on the Covid pandemic in Germany at a press conference held alongside the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, on Friday.

“We are in what we call a critical situation,” said Lauterbach, warning that intensive care services could get overwhelmed and cases of so-called long Covid could grow.

At the moment around 200 to 250 people are dying every day in connection with Covid-19 in Germany.

“I often read that the Omicron variant is less virulent. That’s only partially true,” said Lauterbach, saying he believes the number of daily deaths will continue to rise in the coming weeks. 

READ ALSO: Germany sees steep rise in Covid infections

On Friday, Germany saw 252,836 confirmed Covid infections and 249 deaths within the latest 24 hour period. The 7-day incidence stood at 1,439 infections per 100,000 people. 

Lothar Wieler, RKI chief, said the situation was worsening because of the more transmissible sub-variant BA.2, which now comprises more than a third of new cases in Germany.

As The Local has been reporting, Germany is set to drop almost all Covid restrictions from March 20th, but basic measures will remain.

The new legal basis for Covid restrictions after this date provides that measures such as masking and testing can continue in areas where it is needed, Lauterbach said. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s planned Covid strategy after ‘freedom day’

He clarified that Covid “hotspots” could be large areas, and not just individual cities or regions. These kinds of protective regulations could “also affect an entire federal state”, he said.

Lauterbach reiterated his call for a general vaccine mandate in Germany. “We absolutely need compulsory vaccination,” he urged.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called for vaccinations to be made mandatory, but plans to pass the bill in parliament have been delayed.

The initiative however remains controversial with even some members of the parties making up his three-way coalition opposed.

Austria, which had led the way on obligatory jabs, has also this week suspended the rule.

Around three in four people in Germany are fully vaccinated, and 57 percent have received a third dose.

But 19.6 million people – including four million aged four years and younger – remain unvaccinated.

How will the pandemic develop?

The Health Minister outlined four possible scenarios for the development of the pandemic. These were: the Omicron variant of Covid-19 remains, Omicron becomes more dangerous, the Delta variant of Covid-19 comes back or combinations of these factors.

He also warned of a large wave of infections in the coming months. 

“With the level of unvaccinated people, we can say quite clearly: even in summer, the pandemic will not be over,” warned Lauterbach.

“Far too many people are still contracting Covid, far too many are still dying from Covid and far too many are still suffering from long-Covid symptoms,” said RKI head Wieler.

Severe illness, many deaths and long-term consequences can be avoided through vaccination, Wieler said, adding: “Vaccination is and remains the best and safest way to immunity.”

Member comments

  1. The way karl lauterbach goes on about vaccinations you’d think he has shares in the companies.
    Absolutely everyone is going to get this at some point. If people want to remain unvaccinated and take their chances with it. Let them its their choice. At no point in the entire pandemic was the healthcare system close to collapse. (Not saying individual hospitals were not stretched.)

    This was definitely a pro vaccine and pro government comment worthy of not being deleted or sensored.

  2. I agree Flynn. He acts like vaccination did much of anything about transmission. If you didn’t get vaccinated, oh well. Not my problem. You made your own bed. Leave us alone with masks, “papers”, and restrictions. We’re done.

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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.