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Germany's health minister eyes lockdown easing

February 4, 2021

"We can't stay in this hard lockdown all winter," Jens Spahn said in an interview. But his comments come as a group of frontline medical workers call for the restrictions to be extended.

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn gestures with both hands during a press conference
Image: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

German Health Minister Jens Spahn signaled on Thursday that coronavirus lockdown restrictionscould be lifted before the spring.

"We can't stay in this hard lockdown all winter. We would not tolerate that well as a society," Spahn said in an interview with the Funke media group. 

He pointed to the drop in the number of new infections and patients in intensive care since the start of the year, calling the figures "encouraging.”

After loosening restrictions during the summer months, Germany went into a partial lockdown in November, closing bars, restaurants and cultural and sporting facilities. Schools and non-essential shops were added to the list in mid-December.

In January, the government brought in tighter ruleson mask-wearing and working from home tightened amid concerns over new virus variants. 

Spahn has faced criticism in recent weeksover the German government’s troubled rollout of its vaccination scheme.

He has said that Europe could consider producing Russia’s Sputnik V jab and that talks with Moscow have already begun, calling them "constructive and critical."

A syringe and a bottle containing a Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine
Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine gives around 92% protection against Covid-19, according to trial results published by The Lancet, a leading British medical journal.Image: Dmitry Rogulin/ITAR-TASS/imago images

Federal and state leaders will meet on February 10 to review Germany’s current lockdown, which is set to expire three days later.

But a group of frontline medical professionals called on the government to keep the measures in place until the end of February.

"It is absolutely necessary that we extend the measures in force by at least two weeks," said Gernot Marx, the president of the German Interdisciplinary  Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine.

Medical professionals treating a patient in an ICU ward
A group of German doctors warn ICU admissions must drop before lockdown restrictions can be easedImage: Theo Giacometti/Getty Images

Marx was quoted by the DPA news agency as saying that there would only be a "real easing" of lockdown measures when there were fewer than 1000 coronavirus patients in intensive care across Germany. 

Currently, there are about 4200 ICU patients in the country.

He added that potentially more infectious virus variants could spark a third wave and lay "another extreme burden" on the country’s hospitals.

jf/dj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)