Will Germany Face Another Covid Wave and New Lockdown?

Published February 25th, 2021 - 09:54 GMT
The German flag flys outside the Reichstag, the building which houses the Bundestag (the German lower house of parliament) on February 24, 2021 in Berlin. David GANNON / AFP
The German flag flys outside the Reichstag, the building which houses the Bundestag (the German lower house of parliament) on February 24, 2021 in Berlin. David GANNON / AFP
German leaders have have agreed to extend restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus until March 7.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last night warned that new Covid variants risk a third wave of infections sweeping across the country which could provoke another national lockdown.

Coronavirus cases have started to increase again in Germany with only four per cent of the public vaccinated, while Britons are already counting down the days to freedom on June 21. 

Ms Merkel and state premiers in Germany, Europe's most populous country and largest economy, have agreed to extend restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus until March 7.

Hair salons will be allowed to reopen from March 1, but the threshold for a gradual reopening of the rest of the economy targets an infection rate of no more than 35 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days.

While the Chancellor warns of a looming 'third wave', Germany's biggest-selling newspaper Bild praises Britain's vaccine success with a front-page heading that screamed: 'Dear Brits, we envy you!'.    

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Ms Merkel said: 'Because of (variants), we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, from which a third wave may emerge. So we must proceed wisely and carefully so that a third wave does not necessitate a new complete shutdown throughout Germany.'

Vaccines and comprehensive testing could allow for 'a more regionally differentiated approach', the Chancellor also said in the newspaper interview published online last night.

'In a district with a stable incidence of 35, for example, it may be possible to open all schools without causing distortions in relation to other districts with a higher incidence and schools that are not yet open,' she added.

'An intelligent opening strategy is inextricably linked with comprehensive quick tests, as it were as free tests,' she said. 'I cannot say exactly how long it will take to install such a system. But it will be in March.'

Ms Merkel described Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, which some essential workers have refused, as 'a reliable vaccine, effective and safe. As long as vaccines are as scarce as they are at the moment, you can't choose what you want to be vaccinated with.'    

Bild's front-page headline has the words 'we envy you', partly in English, superimposed over the Union Jack - with a caption saying that 'the English have announced their return to normality on June 21... and here there's no hope'. 

The article describes Britons as 'just plain happy', adding that they had 'reacted with overwhelming euphoria' to the PM's announcement on Monday. 'It means: Normal life is coming back! FREEDOM!,' the article published in Wednesday's paper says. 

'That's made possible by the successful vaccination campaign,' it says, noting that more than 17.7million people have received a jab in the UK compared to 3.4million in larger Germany. 

The article goes on: 'While the Brits are already planning their summer holidays, Germany is stuck in lockdown. 

'That's because chancellor Angela Merkel, who as recently as Monday was holding out the prospect of loosening lockdown, sounded the alarm again yesterday.'

Chancellor Merkel told party colleagues on Tuesday that 'we are now in the third wave', warning that any easing of lockdown after March 7 could only take place gradually. 

The chancellor, a trained scientist, has long been cautious about a hasty exit from lockdown - and Germany's jab programme is not moving fast enough to protect a large share of the population at this stage.  

A second Bild article describes Johnson's plans as a 'Corona-Brexit', and asks: 'When will we catch up to the Brits?'. 

'The deficit is growing: at the moment the Brits are vaccinating nearly three times as many people per day,' it says. 

'Herd immunity on the island [meaning Britain] certainly appears in sight. And that's why the Brits want to open up.'   

While Ms Merkel has come under fire for letting Brussels take the lead in the vaccine race, the EU's supply problems have been made worse by many Germans' reluctance to take the AstraZeneca vaccine after European leaders voiced doubts about the jab.

Germany was among the countries which refused to let over-65s take the jab because of limited trial data, in contrast to Britain where real-world data this week showed the jab cutting hospitalisations in Scotland by 94 per cent. 

Emmanuel Macron added fuel to the fire in France by casting doubt on the jab's effectiveness and claiming that Britain had taken a risk by approving it so quickly.  

Ms Merkel's office is now pleading with Germans to take the AstraZeneca shot after only 187,000 of the jabs were administered out of the first 1.5million delivered.    

'The vaccine from AstraZeneca is both safe and highly effective,' Ms Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday. 'The vaccine can save lives.'

EU chief Ursula von on der Leyen has now joined in that effort, saying that she herself would take the vaccine despite her earlier feud with the company. 

'I would take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought, just like Moderna's and BioNTech/Pfizer's products,' von der Leyen told the Augsburger Allgemeine. 

The EU's AstraZeneca problems are set to continue into the spring, with as many as 90million doses expected to be missing from shipments in the second quarter of 2021.

An EU official involved in talks with the firm says the company has warned that it may deliver only half of its promised 180million doses from April to June.   

It comes after Brussels reacted with fury last month when AstraZeneca said it would cut deliveries to the bloc because of delays at a Belgian factory. 

After AstraZeneca warned of shortfalls but continued to supply Britain in full, the EU published its contract with the firm and claimed to have cast-iron commitments. 

Brussels also imposed export controls on jab shipments leaving the bloc, but was forced into retreat after initially saying they would apply to Northern Ireland. 

But AstraZeneca's CEO blamed the delays on the fact that the EU had not signed a contract until three months after Britain had tied up a deal last year.

AstraZeneca is not exporting vaccines made in the UK, in line with its separate contract with the British government.

But AstraZeneca has told the EU it could provide more doses from its global supply chain, including from India and the United States, an EU official said last week.   

Also under fire is Ms Merkel's health minister Jens Spahn, who has been criticised over the vaccine fiasco and suffered further humiliation this week when his plan to roll out rapid testing from March 1 was torpedoed by the Chancellor's office. 

The rapid-testing plan will now merely be discussed at talks between Ms Merkel and state premiers on March 3, the chancellor's spokesman said. 

As recently as last week, Spahn had promised that the publicly-funded tests would be available from March 1 in pharmacies and local testing centres. 'These testing options can contribute to a safe everyday life, especially in schools and daycare centres,' Spahn had said. 

The government's popularity has also been hit by the prolonged lockdown which has turned Germany's success of last spring into a much bleaker picture this winter. 

After seeing fewer than 10,000 deaths during the first wave, Germany's death toll is now above 68,000 and a weeks-long decline in cases has now come to a halt.  

The last seven days have seen 52,419 new cases, up from 50,403 the week before, and the closely-watched R rate has been as high as 1.25. 

The stagnation means that the infection rate per 100,000 people, currently 59.3, is hovering agonisingly above the level of 50 identified as a benchmark for re-opening.

Germany's success in the first wave means its total death rate is still well below Britain's, with 68,740 deaths compared to the UK's 121,305.   

This article has been adapted from its original source. 

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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