He is considered one of the most prominent virologists in Germany and his statements carried great weight in the corona pandemic: Christian Drosten, chief virologist at the Berlin Charité hospital. Shortly before the end of the year, he spoke up that COVID-19 had entered a new phase.

“We are experiencing the first endemic wave of SARS-CoV-2 this winter, which in my opinion means that the pandemic is over,” Drosten told the Berlin “Tagesspiegel” on Monday.

A virus is classified as endemic when infection rates are constant, not rising or falling significantly, in part because vaccines and immunity from previous infections have slowed new waves of infection.

Christian Drosten’s statement immediately sparked disagreements in the German government. Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann of the liberal FDP called on the rest of the government to end the last remaining COVID prevention measures.

Epidemiologist and German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach of the Social Democrats (SPD) responded that an immediate end to all preventive measures would be “foolish”.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the independent government agency for the surveillance and control of infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases, reported more than 160,000 new corona infections in the past week.

However, the official figures are no longer particularly meaningful. Fewer and fewer PCR tests are being carried out and many infected people with positive self-tests no longer report to the authorities.

Germany is still relatively cautious and still has regulations in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Until April 2023, when the current Infection Prevention Act expires, FFP2 masks must be worn in almost all federal states on long-distance trains and buses, in all hospitals and nursing homes and in all medical practices. People who visit hospitals and nursing homes must be tested beforehand.

All other regulations – covering public transport, schools, restaurants and so on – are organized at the state level and differ in the 16 individual federal states. In Berlin, for example, masks are still mandatory on public transport, while in Bavaria they are only recommended.

Bernd Salzberger, Head of Infectious Diseases at Regensburg University Hospital and President of the German Society for Infectious Diseases (DGI), admits that certain regulations in Germany could be relaxed. “Other countries have done this very successfully, such as Denmark and Great Britain,” he told DW.

“Of course we should continue to wear masks in hospitals simply because there are a lot of vulnerable people there. But in everyday life we ​​could abolish many measures. I believe that many people behave responsibly and you have to ask yourself whether everything really has to be prescribed.”

Wearing masks on trains makes little difference in infection rates as COVID-19 has now become endemic, Salzberger said. “If we had a strong wave of infection where everyone got infected, that would be a different situation.”

During the pandemic there was a wave of demonstrations against restrictive corona protection measures in Germany. It was supported by the so-called lateral thinker movement. She has since turned to other conspiracy theories.

It is not surprising that leading FDP politicians are in favor of lifting restrictions. The protection of personal freedom is one of the basic convictions of the FDP. In the face of a series of poor election results, the FDP is trying to focus more on this area, thereby distinguishing itself from its coalition partners in government, the SPD and the Greens.

Germany’s largest medical association, the Marburger Bund, reacted with outrage to the Minister of Justice’s call for all restrictions to be lifted. There was “hardly to be surpassed in terms of audacity towards the health workers,” said the association’s chairwoman, Susanne Johna, to the editorial network Germany (RND).

Less than a week ago, politicians were still begging hospital staff, nursing staff and resident doctors to work more and even work overtime over Christmas because of the wave of infections. “The lifting of all measures is deeply unsound with the clinic staff, who have done a lot in the pandemic and have just reached the limits of resilience again.”

Gerald Gass, chairman of the German Hospital Association (DKG), thinks it is legitimate to discuss easing certain infection prevention measures – but not until the end of February. In his opinion, “all measures now lifted overnight” is not a good idea.

The hospitals are currently relatively full, especially with flu cases. “We see a combination of infections, some of which end up in intensive care units,” he told DW. “These include fewer COVID patients, but many influenza patients, especially older people, and RS virus cases in children and adolescents.” There are also sick clinic staff, which increases the pressure.

Meanwhile, the massive wave of corona infections in China is being observed with great concern. Especially since the government in Beijing has not only abolished all containment measures in the country, but has also allowed its citizens to travel abroad again. From January 8th, the previously mandatory quarantine when entering China will also be lifted.

The European Union has convened a meeting of its 27 members to define a common strategy. Italy has called for action at European level after tests at Milan airport on December 26 tested positive for more than half of the passengers on a plane from China. Anyone entering Italy from China must now take a mandatory corona test at the airport in Italy. Spain wants to follow this example.

The USA (from January 5th) and India (from January 1st) announced that in future travelers will have to present a negative test result before departure. The German government, on the other hand, wants to monitor the situation first. So far there are no signs that a new variant has developed in China. Otherwise, that would make the country a variant area and lead to travel restrictions, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Health.

China recently reported between 20,000 and 30,000 daily new infections to the World Health Organization. However, the accuracy of these figures is questioned. “I’m not sure how exactly the Chinese authorities report and how well they test,” says virologist Salzberger. “It’s hard to judge what’s really happening there.”

This text has been adapted from English.

Autor: Ben Knight

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The original of this article “Germany’s new corona debate” comes from Deutsche Welle.