Measures will be needed for months RKI stresses the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation

Berlin · Like leading politicians, the Robert Koch Institute a sees a difficult winter ahead for Germany as it deals with the coronavirus situation. Whether there is a partial lockdown or not - social distancing and masks will remain a part of everyday life.

 Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) during a press conference.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) during a press conference.

Foto: dpa/Markus Schreiber

Will it be a winter without Christmas parties, the ones we enjoy with coworkers and friends? Similarly to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn (both CDU), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has also expressed little hope for larger social gatherings in December.

Social distancing, masks, hand hygiene and the airing out of rooms will be with German citizens for a long time to come, said RKI President Lothar Wieler on Thursday in Berlin. He used a German phrase that meant people would still have to bite the bullet in the next months.

According to the RKI, the COVID-19 situation in Germany is still very serious - even though the number of new infections has increased at a lower rate recently. The incidence of infections is still increasing throughout Germany. Clinics are reporting more and more about being pushed to the limit, especially when it comes to medical staff, some of whom are becoming ill themselves, Wieler reported. "It is possible that patients can no longer receive optimal care everywhere.” The number of intensive care patients and the number of deaths is increasing - and will continue to do so.

These assessments are also important in view of Chancellor Merkel's discussions with the state premiers next Monday. On October 28th the group had decided on a partial lockdown, which has been in force since November 2nd. Initially, it was expected to last until the end of the month. Among other things, many leisure facilities and restaurants remain closed. Next Monday, an interim assessment is to be made and there may be some changes to the current regulations in place.

The effects of the partial lockdown which started at the beginning of November are not yet measurable, said RKI boss Wieler. But even after an end to the current restrictions, life could not continue as usual. "Measures (to stop the spread of coronavirus) will be with us for a long time to come. Even if there would be an effective vaccine in the foreseeable future.” Unfortunately, it will take time until all those who would like to be vaccinated can do so. Until then, everything continues to depend on people's behavior. "Even if we get down from the high numbers, we have to keep the measures in place all winter long.”

Spahn expressed himself similarly: He did not believe events with more than 10 to 15 people such as Christmas parties and other social gatherings would be allowed to take place "this winter any more.” He said, "This virus has very long skid marks." Merkel had also said earlier that the second wave could be more difficult because of the winter months.

In its latest figures, the RKI has recorded almost 22,000 new cases nationwide - almost 3,400 more than on Wednesday. All these people could infect others, said Wieler. Wearing masks in schools was a correct measure, he said. "There is no evidence of reduced oxygen supply and psychological stress for children by wearing masks.” Even the best hygiene concepts, in everything from theaters to restaurants, would not help beyond a lockdown - if they were not also implemented, monitored and punished in case of violations.

However, Wieler said he was cautiously optimistic that the curve of new infections had recently risen less steeply. "This may be because the stricter measures are beginning to take effect," analyzed Uta Rexroth, head of the RKI location center. "But we don't know for sure yet. " The effect could also be partly caused by the fact that laboratory capacities are slowly being exhausted. At the moment the maximum test capacity in Germany is 1.9 million PCR tests per week. Rexroth said that this must continue to be monitored closely.

Charité virologist Christian Drosten recently expressed similar views: It is possible that at the moment, due to the overload of laboratories and contact tracing, one no longer notices "what is going on in the population", he said this week in the NDR Info Podcast. Many public health authorities are now also at their limits.

But Wieler does not want to take a negative view of the situation. The majority of the population has understood the purpose of the measures in place to stop the spread of coronavirus, he stressed. "We are not hopelessly at the mercy of this virus." The goal is still to bring the number of new infections back to a level that hospitals can cope with.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the RKI has recorded a total of 727,553 confirmed cases in Germany (as of November 12 at midnight). According to RKI estimates, almost half a million people have now survived the disease. More than 200,000 are currently considered infected. According to RKI, the virus has killed nearly 12,000 people in Germany since the outbreak of the pandemic at the beginning of the year. More than 3,000 are currently in intensive care units. Most recently, 215 people died in one day.

(Orig. text: Gisela Gross, Ulrike von Leszczynski, dpa / Translation: Carol Kloeppel)

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