Germany’s RKI urges contact restrictions and closures to combat Omicron

Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) released new recommendations on Tuesday for measures to slow the spread of the Omicron wave of Covid-19, urging "maximum" contact restrictions and essential travel only.

People walk in Düsseldorf.
People walk in Düsseldorf on Saturday. Germany's RKI is recommending tougher Covid restrictions. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Malte Krudewig

The RKI said Germany was at the beginning of a new Covid wave fuelled by the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Health experts in the public agency for disease control recommend measures to be taken “immediately” and into next year.

“Although the Omicron wave is still in the early stages in Germany, a look at other countries shows that that this variant is likely to lead to a wave of infections,” said the RKI, adding that the variant is “easily transmissible” even in fully vaccinated and recovered people.

The RKI estimates that Omicron will become the dominant variant “by the beginning of January 2022” and estimates tens of thousands of infections every day. Currently, it is doubling in Germany roughly every three days. 

Germany’s Covid infections caused by the Delta wave are currently declining but the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths still remain at a high level.

Health experts fear that if many people are infected around the same time, hospitals will be overburdened and critical services, like police, the fire service and public transport, will fail due to mass sickness. 

The course of the Omicron wave depends on people’s behaviour over the festive season, said experts. 

READ ALSO: German health agency raises Covid risk level for the vaccinated

What is the RKI recommending?

They urged politicians to bring in these measures now until at least mid January:

– Maximum contact restrictions

– Maximum infection prevention measures

– Maximum speed in vaccinating the population (initial and booster vaccinations)

– Reduction of travel to “what is absolutely necessary”

– Strong communication to the public so people understand the measures

Going into more detail, the RKI recommended closing all bars, clubs, restaurants (except for takeaway) and indoor sports, as well as cancelling all large events. 

They also said Covid health pass rules should be tightened. The RKI said the 2G rule should continue for shops (only vaccinated and recovered people can enter) and that the 3G rule should be in place for supermarkets (where you have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested). 

They also recommended extra testing for some other parts of public life (the 2G-plus or 3G-plus rule). Experts also called on a ban on singing indoors (for example in church). 

The RKI said that putting these measures in place now will help medical staff focus on carrying out jabs and booster shots.

What is the government planning?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and German state leaders are deciding new Covid measures on Tuesday.

They want to close nightclubs and discos, as well as limit gatherings to 10 people (for the vaccinated and recovered) from December 28th. 

However, the final resolution from the meeting may be different. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED – German leaders consider new restrictions to fight Omicron wave

Some state leaders want tougher restrictions. 

Baden-Württemberg’s state premier Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) called on the Bundestag to implement the “epidemic situation of national importance” once again after it was allowed to expire on November 25th.

It was a special clause introduced at the start of the pandemic that allowed federal and state governments to order measures quickly without the approval of parliaments.

But Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) warned against extreme restrictions. 

“We must do everything to prevent another lockdown,” he said.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.