Virus still 'far from under control' Germany due to variants

Berlin (AFP) –


The pandemic in Germany is still out of control, the head of its disease control institute said Friday, dampening hopes of a quick easing of its partial lockdown despite declining infection numbers.

Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chief Lothar Wieler told reporters that the emergence of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus posed a real danger to tentatively successful German efforts to curb its spread.

"The situation is far from being under control," Wieler said.

"The virus isn't tired yet, to the contrary it just got another boost" from British and South African mutations, he said.

Wieler said the known variants were not yet "dominant" in Germany, with the British mutation representing fewer than six percent of known cases. But it has been detected in 13 of the 16 German states.

Germany, Europe's top economy, 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, with rules on mask-wearing and working from home tightened in January amid concerns over the new variants.

The numbers of new infections and of patients in intensive care have been falling steadily since the start of the year.

- 'On our way out' -

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government this week had opened the door to easing current restrictions at a policy meeting with the 16 regional states set for next Wednesday.

"We can't stay in this hard lockdown all winter. We would not tolerate that well as a society," Health Minister Jens Spahn said in an interview published Thursday.

Spahn told Friday's news conference that the variants meant Germany should pursue a "cautious" course on any reopening, starting with schools and daycare centres.

"If we give these mutations the chance to spread, we risk a new increase in the infection numbers," Spahn said.

However, Family Affairs Minister Franziska Giffey said parents were crying out for relief and urged a gradual reopening of schools starting this month.

"No one is expecting everything to open all at once," she said, adding that weary parents and frustrated children needed measures "to see the light at the end of the tunnel".

Spahn raised hopes for a stepped-up inoculation campaign this month after the sluggish start in late January due to improved production capabilities and new vaccines receiving regulatory approval.

"We have the means to beat the virus -- not immediately, but in the course of the year," he said, adding that about one percent of the population in Germany had received the required two jabs.

"We are on our way out of the pandemic."

Germany on Friday reported 12,908 new coronavirus cases and 855 deaths in 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 60,597.