Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Germany experiencing ‘massive’ pandemic of unvaccinated

More than 66% of the population is fully vaccinated, but a recent survey showed a large part of Germany's still unvaccinated adults have no intention of getting inoculated.

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Germany is experiencing a “massive” pandemic of the unvaccinated, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday, calling for curbs targeting those not inoculated to tame a resurgence in Covid cases.

The fourth wave is raging “with exceptional force”, Spahn said.

“We are currently experiencing mainly a pandemic of the unvaccinated and it is massive,” he added, warning that “in some regions in Germany intensive care beds are running out again.”

Germany, Europe’s most populous country with some 83 million people, has been grappling with a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks that has seen the seven-day incidence rate hit highs not seen since May.

The country added 20,398 cases over the past 24 hours, the Robert Koch health institute said Wednesday, while another 194 people died.

More than 66% of the population is fully vaccinated, but Spahn expressed frustration at a recent survey that showed a large part of Germany’s still unvaccinated adults had no intention of getting inoculated.

“For the unvaccinated, the risk is high that they will become infected in the coming months,” warned RKI chief Lothar Wieler, speaking at the same press conference.

Spahn called for “more consistent” checks at establishments or events where only those who can show they have been vaccinated, have recovered from Covid or have recently tested negative are allowed to enter.

In some hard-hit regions, he said, access should be limited to those who are fully vaccinated or can show proof of recovery – a system that excludes the unvaccinated and is known as 2G in Germany.

“It’s nothing to do with vaccine bullying,” he said, “but with avoiding an overloading of the healthcare system”.

To protect elderly residents in care homes, and avoid a repeat of the deaths seen in such facilities in the early stage of the pandemic, Spahn called for mandatory tests for all visitors and staff, including the vaccinated.

His final recommendation was for a bigger push on booster jabs, saying the current pace “is insufficient”.

Patchwork

Spahn’s plea for all vaccinated Germans to get a third jab six months after their last coronavirus vaccine is at odds with the nation’s Stiko vaccine commission, which for now is only recommending booster shots for the elderly and certain at-risk groups.

For the elderly, getting a booster was urgent, said Leif Erik Sander, who leads a research group on infection immunology at Berlin’s Charite hospital.

“Our studies show that around 40% of people above 70 no longer have neutralising antibodies against the Delta variant six months after their vaccination,” he warned.

The Covid surge comes as Germany is in political limbo following a September general election, with the winning Social Democrats hoping to have a new coalition government in place by early December.

Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel at the weekend called Germany’s coronavirus trend “very worrying”.

Government officials have however repeatedly stressed that there would be no further lockdowns, as well as ruling out mandatory vaccinations.

Merkel’s outgoing chief of staff Helge Braun on Wednesday called for an urgent meeting between the federal government and the regional leaders of Germany’s 16 states to discuss measures to lower the infection rate and deal with rising hospitalisations.

Under Germany’s federal system, regional states have significant powers to decide their own Covid approach, at times leading to a confusing patchwork of regulations.

The southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg on Wednesday introduced new rules in response to the fourth wave, after breaching a self-imposed threshold on occupied intensive care beds.

Unvaccinated adults in the state must now show a negative PCR test for many activities, including indoor dining and entry to cinemas, museums or gyms.

The tests can cost upwards of €50 and go as high as €200. For outdoor activities, the cheaper rapid test will still be accepted, but it marks a significant tightening of the screws on the unvaccinated.

The eastern state of Saxony, which has one of the country’s lowest vaccination rates at around 57 percent, plans to unveil tougher restrictions on Friday.

Under proposed “2G” plans, unvaccinated people would be excluded from indoor dining, leisure facilities as well as bars and nightclubs.

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