Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said it's too soon to declare the end of the pandemic. He noted that rising cases are causing hospitals to cancel procedures due to large numbers of sick staff.
Germany is a long way from declaring a "freedom day" from COVID-19 as cases continue to mount, the country's health minister said on Friday.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) — Germany's public health institute — on Friday announced an additional 296,498 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, and 288 deaths, while also reporting another record incidence rate of 1,756.4 infections per 100,000 people over a one-week period.
German lawmakers voted last week to relax most federal rules on wearing masks and testing. But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) urged the country's 16 states to ensure social distancing and other safety measures in virus hotspots.
"The pandemic isn't over by a long shot," Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin. "There can be no talk of a 'freedom day.' Quite the opposite."
Germany in coronavirus turmoil
Lauterbach said rising cases are causing hospitals to cancel procedures due to large numbers of sick staff, but did not elaborate on what type of medical operations are being suspended. Quarantine rules could also be causing medical staff to stay off the job.
High-risk groups urged to get fourth COVID shot
Lauterbach also urged people from high-risk groups to get a fourth COVID shot. Currently, less than 10% of those to whom Germany's standing committee on vaccination (STIKO) deems high-risk have actually been vaccinated a fourth time. "We need to be more aggressive with the fourth vaccination," Lauterbach said.
The fourth vaccination is recommended for those aged 70 and above, high-risk patients with certain pre-existing conditions and workers in health care facilities.
Meanwhile, the health ministers of five German states want to keep nationwide COVID-19 restrictions in place beyond the planned phase-out date of April 2 and have asked the federal government for an extension.
The call for an additional four weeks to the measures came from the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse.