Germany on Wednesday reported record levels of COVID-19 cases as the country faces a virulent fourth wave of the pandemic that has taken hold since late October.
The country's public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 52,826 new cases of coronavirus infection in the past 24 hours, the highest rate registered since the pandemic began in early 2020. That represents an increase of 13,150 cases compared with the same day a week ago.
The seven-day incidence rate measuring cases per 100,000 people also reached a record high of 319.5, up from 312.4 the day before. The death toll from COVID-related causes rose in 24 hours by 294 to 98,274.
Death toll could go up over winter
Despite the high infection rate, the death toll still remains below that at the peak of the pandemic in December 2020 owing largely to the fact that around two-thirds of the population is vaccinated.
However, experts have warned from the beginning of the rollout that the number is not high enough to keep the virus under control. One of Germany's top virologists, Christian Drosten, predicted last week that the country could see 100,000 more COVID deaths over the winter if the vaccination rate did not increase and other measures were not taken to stem the spread.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the current coronavirus situation in Germany "dramatic." She was talking on Wednesday at an event for the Association of German Cities in Erfurt.
She also called on those in Germany who have not yet been vaccinated to get the vaccine, saying "it is not too late to opt for a first vaccine shot."
Experts say that infection numbers are likely to continue rising over the winter, partly owing to an increase in indoor gatherings as Christmas approaches.
Call for early boosters
Premiers of Germany's 16 states are scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss ways of combating the fourth wave. The steps could include stricter measures on mask-wearing and requirements for people to produce proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 to be able to visit certain events or locations such as concerts, restaurants and bars.
The premiers are also likely to discuss ways of overcoming vaccination hesitancy among parts of the German population.
Ahead of the meeting, Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday called in an interview for booster vaccinations to be offered to all people aged 18 and over even before the six months of high immunity provided by the first full vaccination has elapsed.
However, his proposal has met with criticism from doctors' associations and patient advocacy groups.
Ulrich Weigeldt, the head of one of Germany's largest doctors' associations, the Hausärzteverband, told papers from the Funke media group that such a move could be at the cost of more vulnerable people who have a greater need to boost their immunity.
He also called for better organization regarding the provision of booster doses, saying that doctors' offices would otherwise struggle to cope with demand.
Germany's Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) has said it will discuss the issue on Wednesday and soon issue guidelines that could see booster shots recommended for people aged 18 and over. Currently, STIKO recommends the booster jab only for people working in care homes and health care, those with immune deficiencies and the over-70 age group.
Warning of economic damage
Meanwhile, a leading think tank has warned that the rising infections are putting Germany's economic recovery at risk.
"The spread of infections is reducing economic activity in sectors of social consumption — gastronomy, travel, culture and events — because people are avoiding infection risks," the head of ifo, Clemens Fuest, told the daily Passauer Neue Presse.
"When the danger of infection is high, most people won't go to restaurants or events whether they are closed or not by state-imposed measures," Fuest said.
He called on the state premiers to tighten the country's so-called 2-G rules — requiring people to present proof that they are vaccinated ("geimpft" in German) or recovered ("genesen") — to prevent unnecessary restrictions on economic activity. He said measures were also needed to reduce the dangers of infections in schools.
Fuest also urged politicians to "up the pressure" on people who are still unvaccinated.
"If the pandemic is to be successfully conquered, it won't be possible to please everyone," he said, adding that those who refused to be vaccinated without good reason were endangering others as well.
ab,tj/dj (Reuters, dpa, AFP)