Coronavirus: Germany’s leading disease official ‘very worried’ as cases rise

Robert Koch Institute president says lack of vigilance by public could cause second wave

The head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute,  Lothar Wieler: “We don’t know yet if this is the beginning of a second wave, but of course it could be.” Photograph:  Tobias Schwarz/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler: “We don’t know yet if this is the beginning of a second wave, but of course it could be.” Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

 

Germany’s leading disease control official has read his fellow citizens the riot act, saying slipping vigilance on hygiene and social distancing could trigger a second Covid-19 wave.

After weeks of steady decline in infections, and an end to his regular briefings, Robert Koch Institute (RKI) president Lothar Wieler went before cameras on Tuesday to reiterate the need to wash hands regularly and keep a distance from others.

“The latest developments leave me very worried,” said Dr Wieler, adding that raves in German parks and crowded beaches could eliminate gains made in the pandemic’s first phase. “We don’t know yet if this is the beginning of a second wave, but of course it could be.”

In early June, Germany was averaging around 350 new cases of Covid-19 a day. That number has jumped to nearly 560 a day. With the summer holiday season now in full swing, German politicians fear greater mobility combined with holidaymakers returning from abroad could create new hotspots inside the country.

On Tuesday, Germany added three regions of northern Spain – Catalonia, Navarra and Aragon – to its risk list, which already includes 130 countries including the US, Turkey and Israel. The foreign office in Berlin advises strongly against all but essential travel there and requires those who return from these regions to quarantine for two weeks.

Free tests

Germany is preparing for compulsory Covid-19 tests for all returnees from risk areas, though plans to make the €130 tests free of charge for all has raised hackles in some quarters.

German federal health minister Jens Spahn said such tests should neither “be a cost issue for the individual” nor “a social issue”; opposition politicians have suggested that anyone who can afford a foreign holiday in a risk area can pay for the test.

The testing centres will be focused on airports, rather than rail or road crossings. They will not be mandatory for those returning from non-risk areas, the minister added. Aware that legal challenges to the new regime are likely, he said that tests were an “intrusion into personal freedom [and] must be well justified and proportionate”.

The German Medical Association has backed the proposal. Its president, Klaus Reinhardt, has said that “it is desirable and reasonable from a medical perspective that all travel returnees from risk countries should have themselves tested”.

As the number of Covid-19 cases in Europe nudges towards two million, most European countries have reported spikes in new cases ranging from 18 per cent in Austria to a 90 per cent rise in Spain.

The regional government of Madrid has said that the wearing of masks will be compulsory in public at all times, bringing it in line with the rest of Spain. French authorities have demanded “collective discipline” with nearly 6,000 cases in the past week, up around 50 per cent week-on-week.

Belgian authorities say they are “very worried” by a 149 per cent surge in infections, week-on-week, but still hope to avoid another lockdown. For four weeks from July 29th, the number of people who can gather together in Belgium has been reduced to five from 15.