SHARE
COPY LINK

COVID-19 RULES

German Health Minister under fire for Covid ‘killer variant’ warning

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has been criticised after warning that a potential killer variant of Covid-19 could emerge in autumn.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD)
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) holds a press conference outside a hospital in Husum, Schleswig-Holstein, on April 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

Lauterbach had made the comments in an interview with Bild on Sunday, in which he had suggested that masks, social distancing and high stocks of Covid vaccines would be needed to see Germany through the cooler months.

“Various Omicron sub-variants are developing at the moment, which are a cause for concern for me. The intervals at which new variants replace the old ones are getting shorter and shorter, which means that we are less and less able to prepare for the mutations,” the SPD politician explained.  

Predicting that a potentially dangerous new variant could emerge in the coming months, Lauterbach said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

Within hours, infectious disease experts were lining up to call for a more moderate tone from the Health Minister.

“A variant as contagious as Omicron and as dangerous as Delta is not impossible, but it is far from being a ‘killer variant’,” virologist Hendrik Streeck told Bild. “Germany has a high vaccination rate and quite a few recovered people, which amounts to a decent level of basic immunity.”

Also speaking to Bild, FDP health expert Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus said she did not think it “expedient to discuss the possibility of a more serious virus variant at this stage”.

Though it is scientifically proven that the virus mutates, “no one can predict today whether it will be a dangerous variant,” she said. 

Stefan Kluge, head of the Department of Intensive Care Medicine at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, took a similar view.

“No expert can currently say for sure which variant we will get in the autumn,” Kluge told the Funke Media Group on Monday. “But we should be prepared for the possibility of another variant coming along that leads to a higher severity of illness than is currently the case with the Omicron variant.”

READ ALSO: Germany arrests Covid protesters for kidnap plot

To call a Covid variant a “killer variant” is inappropriate, Kluge said, adding that there were other infections for which the mortality rate is significantly higher than has been the case with Covid-19 so far.

“The Omicron variant currently leads to very few severe courses of illness,” he explained. “We currently have a mortality rate of less than 0.1 percent with Omicron, which is comparable to influenza.”

To improve basic protection for more vulnerable sections of the population, Kluge called for a vaccination drive and campaign targeting people over the age of 60 and further development of the vaccines. 

According to data released by the Robert Koch Institute on Monday, 76.1 percent of people in Germany have had two shots of the Covid vaccine, while 59.1 percent have also received a booster vaccination.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister to target undecided in new Covid jab campaign

New measures in autumn?

Speaking to Bild on Sunday, the Federal Health Minister suggested that the Infection Protection Act could be modified in the autumn when the pandemic situation could worsen. 

“That’s when case numbers are likely to rise and there’s a high possibility of new mutations or of higher infections with Omicron,” Lauterbach said.

At this point, regulations could be changed to include measures like masks in indoor spaces and potentially the resumption of entry rules such as 3G, 2G and 2G-plus in public venues.

A waiter wipes away outdated Covid rules at a restaurant in Wedel

A waiter wipes away outdated Covid rules at a restaurant in Wedel, Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

As of April 2nd, the majority of states in Germany have adopted an amended version of the Infection Protection Act that removes almost all Covid rules and regulations.

Masks are currently only required on public transport and in hospitals, clinics and care homes and the ‘G’ rules have been entirely dropped everywhere apart from Hamburg and Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The streamlined Covid measures coming in force in Germany

The Health Ministry told Bild he expects new vaccines that protect against Omicron infections to be available in September.

“We already have vaccines (that protect) against the Delta variant,” Lauterbach said. “Our goal is to have as much vaccine as possible for every citizen, no matter which variant comes.”

Member comments

  1. I’ve never been a fan of this politician in particular. But between his screams of more vaccines, more restrictions. More face masks and killer variants is this guy fast loosing his credibility? If not what does he have to do to be given the boot?
    At what point can we begin to question his incentive to keep going this way? Also, weather or not there would be someone more reasonable to take his place.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

COVID-19 TESTS

Germany starts charging for Covid-19 antigen tests

Most people in Germany will have to pay for a Covid antigen test from Thursday as part of a new testing strategy from the government, which is also aimed at combatting fraudulent activity.

Germany starts charging for Covid-19 antigen tests

Taxpayer-funded free rapid tests – known as Bürgertests – were free to everyone in test centres and pharmacies.

But from Thursday, only some people, including those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, will be allowed to get a free Schnelltest, under the new regulations from the Health Ministry. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) agreed last week to significantly restrict free rapid tests. 

They had been free of charge to the population – with a brief interruption last autumn – since spring of 2021.

But according to Lauterbach, the cost of the taxpayer-funded tests had reached around €1 billion per month.

“The truth is – unfortunately, we can’t afford that in the tight budget situation that awaits us in autumn,” Lauterbach said last week.

There are also concerns over fraud. The government has reportedly spent more than €10.5 billion on free Bürgertests during the pandemic, with suspected fraud of up to €1.5 billion.

“There is always the possibility of fraud,” Lauterbach told broadcaster ZDF on Thursday. However, test centres will now have to document why a test is being carried out, meaning it will be possible to verify via random checks, he said.

For those not entitled to free access, antigen tests will now be charged at a contribution rate of €3. 

READ ALSO: Germany to charge €3 for rapid tests 

Who will continue to receive free tests?

People who can’t be vaccinated for medial reasons, such as women in the first trimester of pregnancy, will still be entitled to free tests. 

Others to continue to receive free access to tests include family carers and people with disabilities, as well as their carers.

Furthermore, household members of people who get Covid, children up to the age of five, and residents and visitors of nursing homes, institutions for people with disabilities and clinics do not have to pay for a rapid test.

Visitors and people receiving treatment or residents in inpatient or outpatient hospital facilities can also get free tests. 

People who need proof that they are negative after a Covid-19 infection, so they can go back to work for example, can still get tested for free.

Employees of nursing homes and hospitals should continue to take tests in their facilities, says the Health Ministry.

“Family carers and people with disabilities and their carers will also continue to be able to be tested free of charge,” said Lauterbach. “In doing so, we are expanding the circle of those eligible, but retaining the criterion for doing so: we protect at-risk groups through free Bürgertests.”

Who has to pay €3?

The €3 tests are aimed at people who are attending a possible risk event such as concerts or theatre visits. This is to help prevent so-called superspreader cases, where lots of people can get the virus at once.

A €3 test is also to be charged to people who get a red warning on the Corona-Warn app.

Anyone who wants a test now has to state the purpose of the test. 

People who have Covid symptoms should contact their doctor or health care provider who can arrange for a test that is covered by the patient’s health insurance. 

The government also plans to reduce the amount that is given to the test centres per antigen test – from the current €11.50 to €9.50.

A total of €6.50 from the federal government will be added to the €3 to reimburse centres.

Among the population, the new regulations have been met with a divided response. Around 47 percent of Germans find the price of €3 reasonable, while 43 percent do not, according to a survey by the opinion research institute YouGov. Ten percent did not give an answer.

It comes as Covid infections have risen dramatically. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said the nationwide 7-day incidence on Thursday was 668.6 infections per 100,000 people.

However, experts assume that the number of infections are vastly underreported.

SHOW COMMENTS