Coronavirus variant Omicron wave raises concern for millions unvaccinated
The Omicron variant of the Coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Germany - although no one knows how big the wave already is. It is thought that millions of older people without vaccination protection are acutely at risk. But overall, Omicron also gives us some hope.
The German government and leading virologists are observing the growing wave of the Omicron variant in Germany with cautious optimism, but there is acute concern for the millions of people who remain unvaccinated.
Studies show that Omicron spreads much faster, but the symptoms are slightly less severe, Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. "But this is not an all-clear for older unvaccinated people." Just under 13 per cent of the more than 24 million people aged 60 and over have not been vaccinated against the Coronavirus. In total, more than 20 million people in Germany are not vaccinated. The incidence rate rose for the fourth day in a row on Sunday.
The figure was 222.7 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week. However, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), many cases were probably not recorded during the holidays. It is therefore currently unclear how high the Omicron wave in Germany already is, and it has still probably not peaked. Within one day, there were 12,515 new infections.
Lauterbach is, in his own words, "very, very worried" about the unvaccinated. He appealed once again to people to protect themselves against the Coronavirus. "Many unvaccinated people have the feeling that the ship has sailed for them anyway. This is not true!" The first vaccination drastically reduces the risk of death after just 14 days, he said. "With the increase in first-time vaccinations, we can effectively reduce the number of Coronavirus deaths in the Omicron wave," he said.
The minister once again called for people to wear protecting face masks. "The viral load of those infected is lower in Omicron, so masks work better." He said that in schools, consistent wearing of masks is "an absolute must for all classes". The German Child Protection League has criticised a strict insistence on face-to-face teaching in schools. "It cannot be a solution to insist on face-to-face teaching under all circumstances," President Heinz Hilgers told the "Rheinische Post".
Because of the feared explosive spread of Omicron, experts continue to worry about the increased pressure on hospitals, although the variant does cause less severe illness. According to the Berlin virologist Christian Drosten, an unvaccinated person who becomes infected with the Omicron variant is three quarters less likely to become hospitalised than an unvaccinated person with the Delta variant of the Coronavirus. For unvaccinated people, especially those over 60, the situation is now "really dangerous", according to Drosten.
25.8 percent of the total population in Germany have not yet been vaccinated. That is more than every fourth citizen - 21.5 million people. Among them are about 4 million children up to four who cannot yet be vaccinated. At least 71.2 percent of the total population have had their shots, most of them twice. At least 38.7 percent have also received a booster vaccination.
Against the background of concerns about a sudden loss of staff in clinics and care homes, the President of the German State Association (Landtag) spoke out for a shorter quarantine. "It might be a good idea to shorten the length of quarantine,” District Administrator Reinhard Sager told the newspapers of the Funke media group. However, such a step is not yet necessary, according to Berlin's Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD).
"It’s not necessary right now because our critical infrastructure is still functioning,” Giffey told Deutschlandfunk radio. She thinks such measures should only be taken step by step if in the near future it was foreseeable that the police, fire brigade and other institutions would no longer be able to function.
The next Minister Presidents' Conference on the Coronavirus situation is scheduled for 7 January. Lauterbach had announced proposals for the new week. For example, he said, there would be the question of how the increase in Omicron cases would affect contact reductions and the length of quarantine periods.
The outlook for spring is hopeful. It is expected that vaccines adapted to fight Omicron will then be available. According to virologist Drosten, vaccinated people will have broad protection against the variants when there has been another adaption for Omicron. It probably won’t be the case that people whose first Coronavirus infection is with the Omicron variant "will also be protected against Delta and all previous variants that will co-circulate", Drosten told Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday.
Drosten and Lauterbach agree that Omicron could eventually become endemic. In other words, the Coronavirus would not go away, but society would be better able to live with it – and there would no longer be a fear of overstretching the health system.