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COVID-19

EU health warning: ‘High’ risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths

The EU's health agency has warned of a 'high' risk that newly discovered coronavirus variants could increase the strain on healthcare and ultimately cause more deaths due to their infectious nature.

EU health warning: 'High' risk new coronavirus strains will lead to more deaths
A healthcare worker cleans an ambulance outside a hospital in London. Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP

The Stockholm-based European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that “although there is no information that infections with these strains are more severe”, the fact that they would spread more easily means that the impact on “hospitalisations and deaths is assessed as high”.

Just like previously circulating virus variants, this was particularly true for “those in older age groups or with co-morbidities”, the agency added.

The report specifically addressed the two new variants discovered in the UK and in South Africa, both of which show signs of “increased transmissibility”.

More than 3,000 cases of the UK variant have already been reported in the UK and dozens of countries in Europe and around the world, according to the ECDC.

In South Africa, more than 300 cases of another variant have been recorded and three cases of the same variant have been confirmed in Europe, two in the UK and one in Finland, but all three have been connected to people returning from South Africa.

The health agency recommended countries to continue advising citizens “of the need for non-pharmaceutical interventions in accordance with their local epidemiological situation” with a particular focus on “non-essential travel and social activities”.

The ECDC also recommended a number of options for “delaying the introduction and further spread of a new variant of concern”, including targeted sequencing of community cases to “detect early and monitor the incidence of the variant”.

In addition it recommended increased “follow-up and testing” of people linked to areas with higher numbers of the variant and also remind people coming from such areas of the need to “comply with quarantine” and getting tested.

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COVID-19 RULES

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

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