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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.

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TRAVEL NEWS

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?

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