Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

German optimism over Omicron as Europe dampens new year revelry | Coronavirus

Germany’s leading coronavirus expert has expressed optimism that his country could expect a “relatively normal” winter in 2022 as Europe prepared to ring in the new year in muted fashion, with many countries limiting celebrations.

As the highly transmissible Omicron variant fuels a record-breaking surge in Covid infections across the continent, many governments have curtailed mass public gatherings and either closed or imposed curfews on nightclubs.

But Christian Drosten, who heads the institute of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital, said on Friday that data from other countries suggesting Omicron infections were milder could take the pandemic into an “endemic situation” more comparable to a common cold or flu virus.

“Of course, it is a good situation if you have a virus that no longer makes you ill but transmits easily so that it can seek out and find all of the immunity gaps among the population and still trigger regular updates in immunity,” Drosten said.

Nonetheless, the coronavirus expert said he expected indoor mask-wearing mandates and an updated top-up dose of a vaccine to be necessary to protect vulnerable people over the course of the coming year.

Germany was at a particular disadvantage because it had a higher percentage than other EU countries of people, especially over 60, who had been neither vaccinated nor infected with the virus, he said, adding: “Those are of course seriously at risk.”


In his first new year’s address, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, will urge those citizens who have sat out the vaccination drive to change take the jab. As of Friday, 71.2% of Germany is considered fully vaccinated, the lowest vaccination rate in western Europe other than the UK and Switzerland.

“It’s clear to all of us: the pandemic is not over”, Scholz said in a pre-released transcript of a speech that will be televised on Friday evening. “I appeal to all of you: let yourself be vaccinated.”

After days of sinking infection rates, Germany’s disease control agency reported an increased seven-day incidence of 214.9 for every 100,000 people, with 41,270 new infections and 323 deaths reported in the last 24 hours.

Although deaths have not risen as fast as Omicron infections, fuelling hopes the new variant is milder, many countries in Europe and around the world have imposed New Year’s Eve restrictions to help prevent healthcare systems from being overwhelmed.

Traditional firework displays have been called off at sites from the Acropolis in Athens to the Champs-Elysées in Paris, while a ban on large gatherings in Berlin means once again Silvester cannot be celebrated at the Brandenburg Gate.

Social gatherings across Germany have been limited to 10 people since 28 December, with no exception for New Year’s Eve, while nightclubs are closed and entry to non-essential shops, restaurants and bars is restricted to fully vaccinated people.

In France, the prime minister, Jean Castex, called on citizens to act responsibly by limiting the number of guests at parties, testing before attending them and respecting social distancing, but stopped short of imposing a curfew, as was the case last year.

Greece has banned music in commercial venues for the night, while in Italy, although no rules have been mandated for private New Year’s Eve gatherings, mass outdoor events have been banned and nightclubs will stay closed until the end of January.

In Belgium, communal celebrations such as the new year fireworks display in Brussels have been called off, and restaurants and bars must shut their doors at 11pm. The country’s nightclubs were already closed.

The Netherlands’ national lockdown, in force since 19 December, remains, with non-essential shops and bars and restaurants closed until 14 January – although people are allowed four visitors on New Year’s Eve rather than the usual limit of two.

In Austria, unvaccinated people – currently required to stay at home except for essential reasons – may join gatherings of up to 10 people for new year. For larger parties of up to 25, everyone must be vaccinated. Nightclubs and apres-ski venues remain closed until at least 10 January.

Bars and nightclubs were forced to close from Christmas Day and outdoor gatherings have been limited to 10 people on New Year’s Eve in Portugal, while in Finland bars and restaurants in many regions will have to close at 6pm and limit numbers.

With countries around the world urgently seeking to increase the number of people to have received a third booster shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, Israel on Friday began giving an additional jab to people with weakened immunity.

The health ministry approved a fourth shot for immunocompromised people on Thursday and heart transplant patients were among the first to get this – to be followed by retirement home residents and geriatric patients.

“This decision was taken for fear of an increase in cases of contamination in such institutions that would endanger the health of these people,” the health ministry said.

The prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said Israel, which was among the first countries in the world to offer a third shot to the general public, will be a trailblazer for the fourth jab. “Israel will lead the way,” he said.

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