Health minister defends decision to delay lifting COVID restrictions
Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has defended his government’s decision to keep the current coronavirus restrictions in place in Germany. In view of the current six-figure daily infection numbers, he said the time was not right to think about relaxations, but that the situation could look very different in a few weeks’ time.
Lauterbach: Relaxations should come after Omicron peaks
Speaking to ARD on Monday evening after the press conference that followed the coronavirus summit between the federal government and federal states, Lauterbach said he expects that Germany will be able to relax its coronavirus measures after the Omicron wave of COVID-19 has peaked - something which he expects will happen by mid-February.
Until then, the health minister said that Germany would probably see hundreds of thousands of new infections each day, and in view of infection figures like these, it seemed inappropriate to relax restrictions. Even with the Omicron variant proving to be less severe than the Delta variant, he said there was still the danger of hospitals becoming overloaded with patients.
Criticism of plan to restrict use of PCR tests in Germany
Lauterbach also defended the plan to prioritise the use of PCR tests in Germany for at-risk people and employees who come into contact with them, saying the plan had to be “feasible." Overnight, the announcement has come in for some severe criticism, with figures as high-profile as Markus Söder, the state premier of Bavaria, pointing out that restricting the use of PCR tests will mean “we have no idea how high the number of infections really is.”
Others have picked holes in the government’s pledge that it would make “every effort” to “increase PCR test capacities.” The chairperson of the Association of Accredited Laboratories in Medicine, Michael Müller, warned against setting too high expectations.
“We cannot expand the capacities at will from one day to the next,” he told RND. “If politicians demand more PCR test capacities, they must also create framework conditions for this and ensure financial security in the event that they are not needed.” He called on the government to give more specific guidelines about how much capacity should be increased, and in what period of time.
Family carers and teachers missing from priority list
There were also grumblings about the categories of people who were included in the government’s priority list for PCR tests. The chairperson of the Patient Protection Foundation, Eugen Byrsch, accused the government of forgetting “Germany’s largest nursing service” - family carers, who were not included on the list.
Teachers’ representatives also feel that their profession has been left out in the cold. “It is of course a blatant contradiction when politicians affirm that keeping schools open is the top priority, but, as so often before, duck away when it comes to specifically prioritising students and teachers in health protection measures,” said the head of the German Teachers’ Association, Hanz-Peter Meidinger, to RND.