Germany should avoid talk of ‘freedom day’, says Health Minister

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says Germany is in the grip of a severe Covid wave and has urged states to make use of a law that will keep tougher measures in place.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference on Friday.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

In a press conference held on Friday in Berlin, Lauterbach said that the pandemic was “far from over”.

“We are in a situation where we cannot simply wait and see,” Lauterbach said.

On Thursday, German health offices reported more than 300,000 infections within a day – a record high.

READ ALSO: Germany logs 1.5 million weekly infections as Omicron subtype spreads

But Lauterbach said the real figures are likely twice as high. 

“It is unfortunately not a good situation,” he said. 

The Health Minister also warned that the death toll could rise in the coming weeks, even if new infections stabilise.

On Friday Germany reported 296,498 Covid infections per 100,000 people and 288 deaths within the latest 24 hour period. The 7-day incidence was 1,7654.4 infections per 100,000 people.

‘No freedom day’

Germany is in the process of relaxing Covid restrictions. In fact, the country was set to drop almost all Covid restrictions on March 20th, but most states used a transitional period to extend current restrictions until the beginning of April.

The amended Infection Protection Act has been met with widespread protest from the states who have slammed it for being irresponsible and not easy to implement. 

However, Lauterbach urged states to make use of a ‘hotspot’ mechanism in the new Covid protection laws that mean tougher restrictions – like the ‘G’ rules for entering places like restaurants – can remain if needed.

“There can be no talk of a ‘freedom day’ – quite the opposite,” said the SPD politician. 

“We must also use the hotspot regulation.”

He cited Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as an example of how the rule could be applied by state parliaments. 

The northern state this week voted to extend Covid restrictions until April 27th using the ‘hotspot’ regulation as a legal basis.

Lauterbach said an overload of the health system can be measured and used to activate the regulation – for instance if scheduled operations have to be postponed or patients transferred.

He also reiterated that hotspots can be an entire federal state.

During the press conference Lauterbach urged people to get vaccinated – and for risk groups to get their second booster shot. 

The Health Minister even outlined how Germany is in a different position to countries like the UK.

Unlike in Britain, where the number of cases is also rising, there are five to 10 times as many people over the age of 60 at risk in Germany, he said. 

Member comments

  1. A. Lauterbach really wants 16 state size Hotspots so he can push his mandates through.

    The UK is absolutely comparable. Germany has a slightly higher vaccination rate. (Only very slight).
    The same percentage of infection amongst the population.
    A lower average death rate around 150-200 per day.

    Age distribution is at ages 15-64 is 52.3% in Germany and 54.9% in England.

    You can compare the 2 but lauterbach needs his sptiz.
    Pro mandate pro jab pro lockdown yada yada. Whe will this madness end?

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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.