Germany in ‘middle of Omicron wave’, says Health Minister

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said although Covid measures were working, there was no reason to sound the all clear because Germany is still in the grip of the Omicron wave.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Friday.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Lauterbach said he expected the number of Covid infections to rise further in Germany, but said restrictions and more vaccinations would build protection against the variant, and slow it down. 

The Health Minister gave updates about the German Covid situation at a press conference with Robert Koch Institute (RKI) President Lothar Wieler and high profile Charité Hospital virologist Christian Drosten. 

“We see that the contact measures are working,” said Lauterbach (SPD), adding that contacts had been reduced significantly. 

The rate of growth of infections has slowed in Germany. A few weeks ago, infections doubled every 4.5 days, now it is approaching 6.5 days.

But Lauterbach said there was “no reason to sound the all clear” at this stage, adding that Germany was “in the middle of the Omicron wave”.

Germany saw a record high of 92,223 new Covid infections within 24 hours on Friday. The nationwide 7-day incidence rose to 470.6 infections per 100,000 people on Friday.

There were also 286 deaths connected to Covid within 24 hours. 

READ ALSO: Germany records more than 80,000 daily Covid infections

RKI boss Wieler warned that the number of Covid-related deaths will rise again in the coming weeks.

“The Omicron wave, it continues to grow and with a momentum we have not seen before in this pandemic,” Wieler said. Omicron now accounts for more than 70 percent of new infections, he said.

“We expect that this will completely displace Delta (variant) in the next few days.”

Currently, he said, there are just under 800,000 active cases – about one per cent of the population: “And those are only the cases we know about from the reporting system.”

It’s not possible to prevent every infection, he said, but “we have the tools” to prevent many infections. Wieler appealed to people once again to get vaccinated.

‘Far too many cases’

Charité virologist Drosten said he felt the Omicron situation was misunderstood by many.

Although Omicron tends to lead to milder disease in most people, there are “far too many cases”, Drosten said. The advantage of being less dangerous is “wiped out” by this.

According to Drosten, three million people over the age of 60 in Germany have not yet been vaccinated, and almost nine million people have not been boosted.

For this reason, he warned against allowing Covid to run its course through the population right now without measures in place. 

Lauterbach agreed, saying that the number of victims would be “too high” and that there wasn’t enough immunity.

Drosten said he hoped the population would reach a high level of immunity – and turn into an endemic – by next winter.

Lauterbach also advocated that Germany introduce a general vaccine mandate, saying vaccinating more people would be the quickest and safest way out of the pandemic. 

MPs in the Bundestag are set to vote on a vaccine mandate in the coming weeks. 

READ ALSO: German MPs to decide on general vaccine mandate ‘in March’

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now