Germany Could Be Swamped by Omicron in Weeks, Expert Says
(Bloomberg) -- The head of Germany’s public-health institute warned that the omicron variant of Covid-19 could become dominant in the country in the next one to two weeks with potentially serious consequences for hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, said case numbers are likely to start rising again soon, with a wave of infections “with a dynamic unlike anything we’ve yet seen.” He urged citizens to limit social contact over the festive period, noting that Germany is still suffering around 2,000 Covid-related deaths per week. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said an omicron-specific booster vaccine will probably be necessary eventually.
“In recent weeks the infection numbers were coming down but unfortunately that’s not a sign of easing,” Wieler said Wednesday at a news conference in Berlin. “The Christmas celebration shouldn’t be the spark that fuels the omicron flame.”
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and regional leaders on Tuesday agreed on tighter social-distancing restrictions to try to ward off what Lauterbach has warned could be a “massive fifth wave” of the pandemic powered by omicron.
The fast-spreading strain is rapidly taking hold across Europe and France’s Health Minister, Olivier Veran, predicted Wednesday that it will dominate there within a week.
It’s unclear how long protection will last from booster shots, the German health minister said. The country is buying omicron-specific vaccines from BioNTech SE -- Pfizer Inc.’s development partner -- and expects delivery of 80 million doses starting in April or May, and is also prepared to order from Moderna Inc., he said.
“As a scientist, I expect that we will need to assume a so-called fourth vaccination will be necessary,” Lauterbach said.
The new German curbs to take effect next week include limiting gatherings to 10 people and closing nightclubs to reduce interaction over the New Year period, and also apply to those who are inoculated or have recovered from the virus. Rules excluding people who aren’t vaccinated or recovered from restaurants, theaters and non-essential stores remain in force.
The measures stop well short of the type of lockdown that kept Germans inside over last year’s holidays, and those imposed in countries like the neighboring Netherlands.
Since taking office this month, Lauterbach who is a Harvard School of Public Health-trained epidemiologist, has been pushing hard to ramp up Germany’s vaccination campaign, which has lagged those in countries like France and Italy.
Scholz on Tuesday said the country is on track to meet a goal of administering 30 million booster shots by the end of the year, and set a new target of 30 million more in January.
To help accelerate the inoculation campaign, Germany will soon begin administering protein-based Covid shots manufactured by Novavax Inc., Lauterbach said.
The European Medicines Agency cleared the shot, which is based on older technology than messenger RNA vaccines, on Monday after months of delays.
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