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Germany warns against travel as variant spreads

January 14, 2021

The Robert Koch Institute chief said Germany will have COVID-19 under control by the end of 2021. But he added that the spread of new virus variants might pose a challenge.

Düsseldorf Airport platform empty
Germany has shut down non-essential business since November over the pandemicImage: Ying Tang/NurPhoto/picture-alliance

People in Germany must refrain from nonessential travel, the head of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases (RKI) said on Thursday, after the country detected cases of new coronavirus variants.

"We will have more variations ...Therefore don't travel," RKI President Lothar Wieler said.

Germany has reported 16 cases of the coronavirus variant that was first detected in Britain, and four other cases of the variant from South Africa.

The RKI said these would not be the last new COVID-19 variants, as a new variant has been detected in Brazil.

All infections of the new COVID-19 variants in Germany have been related to travel, Wieler said.

On Wednesday, Germany approved stricter controls for people entering the country. Starting Thursday, anyone coming to Germany from a high-risk area must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of arrival, according to the government website

Travelers from areas with very high risk, which include places where the new variants have been detected, are required to submit a negative COVID test before travel. 

Germany reported on Thursday a record high of 1,244 deaths, along with 25,164 new infections in 24 hours.

Tougher restrictions necessary?

RKI member Dr. Dirk Brockmann said statisticians agreed that stricter measures would cause the number of new cases to fall "substantially and rapidly."

The German institute said that people traveled a lot more during the second lockdown than the first round of restrictions in March last year.

Brockmann added, "there is a lot of common sense, but there are also a lot of exceptions, especially when it comes to mobility. People are on the road a lot."

He said, "the rules that lead to fewer contacts simply have to be tightened."

'Under control' by end of this year

The RKI urged people to follow the current lockdown rules in Germany, to control the spread of coronavirus. The institution also expressed support for further restrictions.

"To me, these measures we're now taking aren't a complete lockdown,'' said Wieler. "There are still too many exceptions and they aren't being strictly implemented.''

Total shutdown for Germany?

However, Wieler added that he expects the situation in Germany to improve by the end of the year. 

"At the end of the year, we will have this pandemic under control," Wieler said, urging people to receive the COVID vaccine.

The German government aims to inoculate 60%-70% of the population to achieve herd immunity. However, vaccine skepticism might hinder the officials' effort to reach this goal.

"I think our strategy is to inform the people, to be completely transparent regarding the characteristics of the two licensed vaccines," said Klaus Cichutek, the head of Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) which is in charge of vaccination in Germany.

Cichutek told DW that the available information implies a high rate of success for the existing vaccines.

"Of course, we do not know yet what the protection will look like in real time. But the data look very good," Cichutek said.

RKI: Working from home protects 'all of us'

Germany will have enough vaccine doses for its entire population by the end of 2021, according to the RKI.  

The RKI also encouraged people to work from home and maintain social distancing to curb the spike in COVID-19 cases. 

"Now working from home protects the health of all of us — for this we need even more responsible employers," Wieler said.

In 10 of Germany's federal states 85% of intensive care units are currently occupied, causing congestion in hospitals, he added. 

Germany has shut down non-essential businesses and institutions since November and until the end of January at the earliest. 

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to meet with top officials and the 16 state premiers later in January to discuss whether further measures are necessary. 

The country aims to curb the number of daily COVID-19 infections to less than 50 cases in every 100,000 per week, to track infection chains. The current rate is 151.2, according to the RKI. 

wmr,fb,kbd/dj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

A previous version of this article misquoted Lothar Wieler as saying that 85% of intensive care beds in Germany were occupied by COVID patients in 10 states. Instead, Wieler simply said 85% of intensive care beds in 10 German states were occupied, without specifying the percentage of coronavirus patients. This has now been corrected. DW apologizes for the error.