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JENS SPAHN

Germany ‘must do everything’ to break fourth Covid wave, says Health Minister

Germany this week reported over 50,000 coronavirus infections in 24 hours - the world’s highest. Health Minister Jens Spahn now recommends new restrictions will be needed - even for the vaccinated.

Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a conference on Friday.
Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a conference on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Germany’s outgoing federal government is floating new restrictions aimed at curbing the country’s fourth Covid-19 wave, after it registered the highest number of new infections worldwide this week. Furthermore, the planned restrictions will, to some extent, affect everyone in the country, including the fully vaccinated.

“We must do everything necessary to break this trend,” Spahn told a press conference, warning how an uncontrolled spread could see the country’s Covid-19 numbers double every two weeks. “Otherwise it will be a bitter December for the whole country.”

Spahn is now floating the idea of a “2G Plus” rule for large events and clubs. Such a rule would restrict entry to the “geimpft” (vaccinated) and “genesen” (people who’ve recovered from Covid recently). This is already in place in many federal states for bars and clubs – but a “Plus” rule would require attendees to also present a negative test result alongside their certificate of recovery or vaccine pass.

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder has already made a similar suggestion. Spahn has also joined many federal and state politicians in saying that a negative test result should also be required for anyone visiting a care home.

‘I won’t attend NYE parties’

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), is asking people – including the vaccinated – to reduce their contacts and avoid large events entirely.

“It’s five minutes past midnight,” warned Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), underlining the serious situation. 

The weekly infection rate has soared to an all-time high of 263.7 per 100,000 people, and intensive care beds are filling up rapidly.

Several German cities kicked off months-long carnival celebrations on Thursday, with revellers required to prove they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid before entering the party zones.

The country’s much-loved Christmas market season is also on its way.

But Wieler said large gatherings “must be viewed very critically” and in some situations “clearly should be cancelled.”

Indoor celebrations especially can act as superspreader events “and everyone must really think about whether they want to expose themselves to that risk,” he told reporters in Berlin.

“I personally won’t be attending New Year’s Eve parties. But I urge people not to wait until then to think about their actions.”

Germany’s Covid surge has been blamed on a relatively low vaccination rate, with just over 67 percent of the population of some 83 million people fully inoculated.

Other European nations are battling similar Covid resurgences.

Austria has introduced rules that bar unvaccinated people from certain events and indoor venues. The Netherlands is planning a renewed “partial lockdown” as cases hit record levels.

‘Bitter December’

Health Minister Spahn, speaking alongside Wieler, said the situation in Germany “is serious”.

To help facilitate new testing requirements, Spahn has also announced that Germany will return to providing widespread free Covid-19 testing this weekend, after ending it in October in a bid to incentivise vaccination.

Several hard-hit states have already tightened their 2G rules to bar the unvaccinated from restaurants, gyms, hairdressers, and cultural spaces. Spahn, however, isn’t ruling out the possibility that another lockdown would be necessary.

The federal government and leaders of Germany’s 16 regional states are meeting next Thursday to discuss joint measures to combat the pandemic, following criticisms of a confusing patchwork of different restrictions emerging.

Among the proposed measures are stricter curbs on the unvaccinated, for instance by excluding them from indoor dining or venues such as cinemas, gyms and theatres – which some states are already doing.

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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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