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Calls to end Covid measures as top German virologist declares pandemic 'over'

The Local Germany
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Calls to end Covid measures as top German virologist declares pandemic 'over'
A passenger on public transport in Stuttgart holds an FFP2 mask. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Rettig

Top virologist Christian Dorsten believes that the Covid pandemic has moved into an endemic phase, prompting some politicians to call for an end to the current protective measures in Germany.

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In an interview with Tagesspiegel on Tuesday, the head of virology at Berlin's Charité clinic declared that the most dangerous phase of the pandemic had come to an end. 

"We are seeing the first endemic wave of Covid-19 this winter," Drosten said. "So in my estimation, that's the end of the pandemic."

German health authorities are still reporting more than 100,000 new Covid infections per week on average, but the immunity to the virus built up by large swathes of the population has made severe courses of illness far more rare.

According to Drosten, who also sits on the government's pandemic advisory council, immunity to Covid will be so broad and resilient after the winter that an outbreak in the summer is highly unlikely.

Virologist Christian Drosten

Christian Drosten, head of the virology department at Berlin's Charite University Hospital. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

The emergency of a new mutation could drive up infection figures, he said. "But I don't expect that to happen at this point either."

Drosten is not the only virologist sounding the all-clear in Germany: Christian Karagiannidis, who also sits on the government's council of experts, believes that severe cases of Covid will continue to decline.

"We see that the number of severe cases is decreasing more and more," he told RND. "I don't think we'll see another setback."

The term 'endemic' describes a situation in which a community has built up such strong resistance to a virus through infections and vaccinations that waves begin to flatten out.

It means that the illness is far less severe for most of the population because the immune system has become more efficient at fighting it. 

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'End the pandemic measures'

Responding to Drosten's analysis, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) called for the few remaining pandemic measures to be dropped throughout Germany. 

"Christian Drosten was among the most cautious scientists during the pandemic," the FDP politician wrote on Twitter. "Now his assessment is that the pandemic is over. We are in an endemic state. As a political consequence, we should end the last Covid protection measures"

Alongside Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Buschmann was responsible for drafting the current set of rules, which includes masks on long-distance public transport and in clinics and care homes. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany's new Covid-19 rules from October

Depending on the pandemic situation, federal states also have the power to add or remove certain measures - and several states have signalled a willingness to relax their rules. 

In the early weeks of December, both Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt ended mandatory masks on local public transport, with Schleswig-Holstein due to follow suit in January.

Other states - including Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, Lower Saxony and Saxony - have hinted that the requirement to wear masks on buses and trains will end after winter. 

In another key change, Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Schleswig-Holstein and Rhineland-Palatinate have all recently scrapped the obligation for people who test positive for Covid to self-isolate at home.

Instead, people who catch the virus will be subject to stricter mask-wearing and social distancing rules.

READ ALSO: Four German states poised to end mandatory Covid isolation

Doctors urge caution 

The current version of the Infection Protection Act is due to expire at the end of March, and it is unclear whether the legislation will be dropped or extended in some form over summer. 

For some politicians, however, measures should end much sooner than March 30th next year. This week, Bavaria's Health Minister Klaus Holetscheck (CDU) urged the government to amend the Infection Protection Act as soon as possible.  

"More and more experts assume that the pandemic has now gradually turned into an endemic," said Holetscheck. "The federal government cannot ignore this and should examine the Infection Protection Act to see where it should be adapted to the new situation."

Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU).

Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU). Photo: Bildnachweis
picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

According to Holetschek, Bavaria's strategy of relying on recommendations rather than rules has been a success.

However, the head of the World Medical Association, Frank Ullrich Montgomery, responded sceptically to the idea of removing all measures.

"Relaxation doesn't mean you can just throw all precaution to the wind," Montgomery told Bavarian news site BR24. "You still have to pay a little bit of attention to yourself and your environment."

This includes wearing masks in badly ventilated indoor spaces such as local public transport, he added. 

READ ALSO: German opposition leader calls for official end to pandemic next year

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Richard Hooker 2023/01/18 06:46
Drosten ist spelled incorrectly in the headline.

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