Germany’s fourth wave of the pandemic could reach a “sad peak” in intensive care units around the country around Christmas, the outgoing health minister, Jens Spahn, has warned as he defended the decision to bar unvaccinated people from many areas of public life.
On Thursday, the German government and heads of the federal states agreed that only those who have been vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid should be allowed in restaurants, cinemas, leisure facilities and many shops, and mooted introducing a general vaccine mandate from February.
“We should have displayed this consistency in our treatment of unvaccinated people at a much earlier stage”, said Spahn, who is due to hand over his job to a successor from the new government next Wednesday.
Spahn warned that the number of Covid-19 patients on intensive care wards would “significantly rise” above the 5,000 mark in the coming weeks and months. On Friday morning, 4,793 patients suffering from the disease are lying on intensive care beds at hospitals around Germany, about half of whom are intubated.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s disease control agency, is recording a national incidence rate of 442,1 cases per 100,000 citizens over the space of seven days, with 390 patients having died with the disease in the last 24 hours.
“Reduce your contacts as much as possible”, Spahn urged. “Do your part to help reduce further suffering”.
Germany’s incidence rate has stagnated over the last week and marginally reduced over the last three days, though politicians and scientists warn off investing too much hope in the figures.
The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, said on Friday he was confident that restrictions were already having an effect in some German regions. Other states such as Saxony or Thuringia, however, were so inundated with new cases that health authorities were struggling to report them accurately as laboratories’ capacities reach their limit.
Leading figures from Germany’s incoming government, including the chancellor-designate, Olaf Scholz, and the finance minister, Christian Lindner, have in recent days signalled they would back a move to make vaccination mandatory from next year.
Wieler on Friday declined to position himself in favour of a general mandate. “I believe this country has to do a lot more debating,” he said. “My wish is for there to be an informed debate, followed by an informed decision.”
Unless the country had sufficient immunity against Covid-19, Wieler said, “we will struggle to bring the pandemic to a standstill”.