Germany could still be hit by winter Covid wave, health minister warns

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has criticised states that have loosened their Covid restrictions in recent weeks, as he warned that Germany could be on the brink of another wave.

Visitors browse stalls at Hanover Christmas market.
Visitors browse stalls at Hanover Christmas market. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

Speaking on Bayerischer Rundfunk Thursday, Lauterbach said he expected Covid infection numbers to rise again over the next weeks.

With Germany “likely at the start of a new winter wave”, Lauterbach said he could not understand states that had started to loosen their existing rules. 

“It feels kind of like a bidding war to see which state can relax their rules first,” he said. “That’s just a little bit populist.” 

Pointing to the some 1,000 people who continue to die each week after contracting Covid, Lauterbach said the existing rules were there to protect people who could not fully protect themselves.

Earlier this week, Bavaria became the second federal state to announce plans to scrap mandatory masks on local public transport, with state premier Markus Söder saying he was “convinced” that the rule could be phased out in either December or January. 

READ ALSO: Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein had already made a similar announcement earlier this month, with the mask-wearing rule due to end in the new year.

Speaking on Bayerischer Rundfunk, Lauterbach dismissed changes to the current restrictions as “reckless” and stressed that the Federal Health Ministry didn’t support plans to relax the rules.

Four states have also taken a further step towards liberalisation in recent weeks by ending the obligation to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid.

Under the current Infection Protection Act, only masks on long-distance transport, in clinics, and in care facilities are mandated on a federal level, while states are allowed to set their own mask-wearing rules on local public transport and in other public spaces.

Pandemic ‘nearly over’ 

While a handful of states look to relax their measures, top virologist Christian Drosten, who sits on the government’s panel of Covid experts, has signaled that the pandemic could soon be drawing to an end.

According to Drosten, the pattern of waves earlier this year show that increasingly small factors are enough to end a slew of infections. At the end of October, for example, a few weeks of summery weather broke the autumn wave entirely.

“The situation for the virus is becoming precarious,” Drosten told Die Zeit. “That is good. It is no longer the case that the virus could completely turn the game around with a few mutations.” 

The Berlin-based virologist said he didn’t expect a more dangerous or deadly mutation of the virus to emerge in the coming months. 

Christian Drosten and Karl Lauterbach

Christian Drosten, director of the Institute of Virology and Charite Berlin, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and RKI chief Lothar Wieler speak at a press conference in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Nevertheless, Drosten warned that the winter could be “difficult” if the highly infectious BQ.1.1 subtype became the dominant variant.

Epidemiologist Klaus Stöhr agreed with Drosten’s assessment, telling Bild that the signs were pointing towards a transition from the pandemic to the endemic phase, largely due to the levels of immunity among the population.

New variants and mutations were bound to appear, he said. 

“But that a variant appears that changes the clinical picture enormously or even worsens it and/or bypasses the acquired immune protection – we don’t see that happening!”

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

Uptick in infections

After falling steadily for a number of weeks, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 stood at 187 on Thursday, up from 178 the previous day.

This represents a slight drop from the previous week’s value of 199 and a significant decline compared to last month’s figure of 584.

However, experts say the incidence has become far less meaningful in recent weeks in light of the massive drop-off in testing – and particularly the negligible number of people who are taking PCR tests. 

According to the latest report from the Robert Koch Institute, 1,566 people were hospitalised with Covid within 24 hours, while 164 people died after contracting the virus. 

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German schools and kitas warn of closures amid staff sickness wave

Schools and nurseries in Germany could have to close their doors due to too many staff members calling in sick with seasonal infections, the primary school association has warned.

German schools and kitas warn of closures amid staff sickness wave

With temperatures dropping and Covid and flu infections spiking, experts are warning that the shortage of staff in schools and Kitas around Germany is becoming increasingly hard to manage. 

According to Edgar Bohn, the chairman of the primary schools association, parents could find themselves left without childcare at short notice this winter if local schools have to close their doors due to too many staff absences.

“The staffing situation in many primary schools in the country is on the brink and in some cases is below the calculated staffing requirement,”  Bohn told RND. “I cannot and do not want to imagine complete school closures, but they could certainly be the result in some cases.”

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I take sick leave in Germany without visiting a doctor?

Bohn’s warnings were echoed by Waltraud Weegmann, the head of the German Daycare Association, who reported that the situation in nursery schools was already difficult. 

“Many daycare centres across Germany are currently struggling with a high number of staff absences,” she said.

In Weegmann’s view, the skilled worker shortage in nursery schools needs to be dealt with urgently.

“Haste is required,” she said. “Otherwise we will no longer have a daycare centre crisis, but a complete daycare centre collapse.”

Though almost all sectors in Germany are battling severe staff shortages, education and childcare regularly emerge as two of the worst-affected sectors in the country.

According to Jennifer Rotter, a spokesperson for the Workers’ Welfare Association, this “precarious situation” makes school and Kita closures not just likely, but inevitable.

“Reduced opening hours and even short-term closures due to a lack of staff are almost the rule rather than the exception at the moment,” Rotter told RND.  

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Which German sectors have the most job openings?

Covid inflections in Germany have been on the rise since the beginning of autumn, with official statistics from the Robert Koch Institute suggesting an incidence of 27 infections per 100,000 people in the space of a week.

However, since testing for the virus has sunk to very low levels, experts say the real figure is likely much higher.

In addition to infections with Covid-19, general respiratory infections like the flu are also going up. In the week ending November 19th, the frequency of this type of infection had risen to 8,700 per 100,000 people. 


wave of illnesses – (die) Krankheitswelle

short-notice – kurzfristig 

school closures – (die) Schulschließungen

precarious – prekär 

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