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Coronavirus: Merkel aide warns of vaccine-resistant mutations

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, warned that the country still finds itself "in the most dangerous phase of the pandemic."

A street sign indicating that the use of face masks is mandatory, hangs near the Bandenburg Gate in Berlin

A street sign indicating that the use of face masks is mandatory, hangs near the Bandenburg Gate in Berlin

Germany must bring down coronavirus infections in the next few weeks or risk new virus mutations that are resistant to vaccines, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.   

"We are in the most dangerous phase of the pandemic," he added. "The next few weeks will determine whether we can foreseeably get the pandemic under control."

If the number of infections rises rapidly again, there is a growing danger that the next virus mutation will become resistant to the vaccine, Braun said.

"Then we would need new vaccines, then we would have to start vaccinating all over again," he pointed out.

Helge Braun

Braun said he expected the infection situation to ease in May

Curfews and testing

To curb the virus' spread, Braun called for the imposition of stricter measures and night-time curfews in regions with high numbers of new infections.

He spoke out in favor of additional curbs in regions where the number of cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days is more than 100. "That's where regional curfews in the evening and at night can help, because we have the highest infection rates at meetings in people's homes."

He also stressed the importance of testing in reducing virus transmission, urging firms to compulsorily test their workers twice a week.

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Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician and public health expert Karl Lauterbach called on the federal and state governments to immediately implement a "hard lockdown," citing the sharp rise in infections.

"It won't work without a hard lockdown," Lauterbach stressed, defending his call for nationwide curfews. "Curfew restrictions from 8 p.m. for two weeks would work — we've seen it in France, Britain and Portugal."

The sooner a decision was taken, the more lives would be saved, he said.

Summer holidays

Braun told the Bild am Sonntag that he thought holiday travel would be possible again in August.

German Deputy Economy Minister Thomas Bareiss had higher expectations. He said in an advanced copy of Bild's Monday edition that he thought summer holidays and open restaurants could happen as early as the end of June.

Bareiss, who is also the federal tourism commissioner, based his hopes on the planned supply of 77 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by then.

"This will make holidays and restaurant visits safely feasible for everyone," he said.

Thousands of Germans have already decided to take foreign holidays as 60 "quite well booked" planes brought German tourists to the popular holiday destination on the Spanish island of Mallorca on Saturday, an airline company spokesperson confirmed to German press agency dpa. 

Another 70 planes were expected to fly out on Sunday.

Foreign travel is not prohibited in Germany, but it has been discouraged and hotels in the country remain closed for tourists.

COVID cases in Germany rising again

Coronavirus infections have risen sharply in Germany in recent weeks, driven by a more transmissible variant of the virus and moves to ease some restrictions.

On Saturday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 20,472, while the reported death toll rose by 157, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

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Braun said he expected the infection situation to ease in May, helped by the impact of vaccinations and the onset of warmer weather: "By Whitsun (May 23) we will see the first positive effects — provided the situation doesn't get out of hand by then."

Meanwhile, popular frustration is growing over the government's pandemic management. Opinion polls indicate that support for Merkel's party has been dropping ahead of a national election in September.

ab,sri/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)