Lifting COVID restrictions in Germany by March is currently being considered by government officials in the country. But some warn that it may be too early to do so by then.
Germany has been reaching all-time high values in the number of daily and total cases and incidence rates.
Yesterday, there were 208,498 new cases of coronavirus reported in Germany. This was the highest number of new cases in one day for the past two years, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
More than that, the total number of COVID cases in the country from the start of the pandemic until now has already reached 10,186,644.
The 7 day incidence rate isn’t looking any better. It is currently at 1227.5 cases per 100,000 people, which is the highest it has been compared to the previous days. It was just 940.6 cases per 100,000 people last week and 222.7 cases per 100,000 people last January.
Similarly, the incidence rate for individuals within the 5–14 age group is much higher than the national average, exceeding it by as much as three times more.
On the flip side, there seems to be some good news despite the aforementioned instances. The incidence rate for individuals more than 60 and 80 years old is around three times lower than the national average. At the same time, the death and hospitalization rates have not surged as much as the number of new cases has. There were 196 reported deaths due to COVID yesterday, which does not differ that much from the 166 deaths reported last week. The hospitalization rate for COVID cases was 4.59 per 100,000 per week last Tuesday, compared to 4.64 per 100,000 the day before.
Do the Reported Daily Cases Reflect the Actual COVID Situation?
However, the number of reported daily cases may not tell the whole story of the COVID situation happening in the country. Individuals are having difficulties accessing PCR tests for COVID because of the limited capacity of laboratories. Also, not everyone is eligible for a PCR test anymore. This means that there may be individuals who have the disease but are not reported by the government because they lack a PCR test result.
Additionally, not all cities and districts are reporting the number of COVID cases in their area on time. Recently, they have been facing challenges in relaying the data to the Robert Koch Institute, which is the public health agency of Germany.
The Testing Strategy for COVID-19 Was Changed
The surge of COVID cases brought about by the omicron variant put a lot of pressure on the healthcare system. Without the implementation of new measures, the healthcare system could possibly collapse. German government officials then decided to adjust the regulations regarding testing for COVID-19 earlier this year.
In January of this year, the Association of Accredited Laboratories said that the testing labs across the country utilized up to 86% of their capacity. This becomes troublesome as the health minister of Germany, Karl Lauterbach, estimates that there could be 600,000 new COVID cases every day when February comes.
Laboratories will have a difficult time coping with the demand for testing services in the face of a shortage of resources.
Previously, anyone who obtained a positive result in a rapid antigen test was required to undergo a PCR test in order to confirm their possible COVID infection. However, this was recently changed. PCR tests are now only conducted for employees working in hospitals and individuals belonging to vulnerable populations.
Anyone else not eligible for a PCR test is advised to make use of rapid antigen tests that are of quality so that they can obtain reliable results. People who come into close contact with a COVID positive individual or those who are notified to be high risk in the Corona–Warn-App are asked to do the same.
Lifting COVID Restrictions in Germany is on the Table
With the more stable number of cases in terms of hospitalization and deaths, many citizens are encouraging officials to pursue lifting COVID restrictions in Germany.
Marco Buschmann, the Federal Minister of Justice, echoed this sentiment. He said that lifting COVID restrictions in Germany by March of this year is an option for the country. This will be done on the condition that the predicted rise in cases this month by the Robert Koch Institute does not progress any further.
Buschmann said that lifting COVID restrictions in Germany will only happen if no new variants of the COVID-19 virus arise that may rattle the relative stability that the country is experiencing. If new COVID-19 variants do come and prove to be more contagious and severe than the previous ones that have been going around, it would require government officials to adjust their plans accordingly.
Depending on the situation in the coming weeks, public health measures that do not benefit citizens and prevent the continued transmission of the COVID-19 virus will be removed.
The 2G rule is one of the regulations that can be discussed as authorities consider lifting COVID restrictions in Germany. This rule is currently implemented in nonessential establishments. Citizens who want to enter these places need to ascertain their vaccination status or recent recovery from COVID before they are allowed inside.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and authorities from the 16 German states will come together again on February 16 to decide on how to move forward with the COVID situation in the country.
Some Remain Hesitant
Some say it may be too soon to consider lifting COVID restrictions in Germany by March.
Gerald Gass, the head of the German Hospital Federation, said that any final decisions on lifting COVID restrictions in Germany should only be made when the country has reached the end of the peak in COVID cases brought about by the omicron wave. Officials should ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed anymore. He did not, however, disagree with the planned discussions about these possibilities. The situation appears to be improving as of now, and restrictions should be reevaluated.
Christian Drosten, a virologist from Berlin’s Charite hospital, shares the same view as Dr. Gass. He believes that it may not be appropriate to relax public health measures because Germany’s vaccination rate still lags behind other countries.
Three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are needed to provide ample protection to individuals against severe diseases and death due to infection with the COVID virus. This recommendation is especially relevant to the new Omicron variant largely prevalent in Germany and across the world.
Individuals with this level of protection from the virus need not worry about reinfection. The same is not true for individuals who remain unvaccinated.
Drosten also said that the decision of Denmark to ease almost all of the public health measures against COVID-19 should not influence Germany to do the same. The countries have different vaccination rates, with more people in Denmark already having received their COVID-19 vaccines. There are still many citizens in Germany that are hesitant about vaccinations, with anti-vaccine protests occurring across the country.
Denmark announced this month that citizens do not have to wear face masks or make use of their COVID-19 health passes for entry to establishments. The same should not be done in Germany at the moment because doing so could possibly reverse any progress that they have made and overwhelm hospitals at unprecedented levels.
More citizens want to have some sense of normalcy after two years of living with public health measures that restrict movement within and outside the country. Government officials are listening to their request, but they are cautious about fully lifting COVID restrictions in Germany. The plans to do so should remain appropriate to the situation in the country so that any premature removal of restrictions would not backfire on them.