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Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff has warned that coronavirus infections could spiral in the coming month and could trigger renewed restrictions on daily life for the unvaccinated.
Helge Braun on Sunday told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that cases could reach up to 100,000 a day by late September if they continued to rise at the current rate.
Germany was finally able to loosen restrictions in May as infections fell, and the seven-day incidence rate still remains low, at 13.8 per 100,000 on Sunday, according to the Robert Koch Institute. Yet cases have risen so quickly in the past week that officials are beginning to raise alarm bells.
“We currently have a 60 per cent increase in numbers per week. If the Delta variant were to continue spreading at this rate, and we don’t counter it with a very high vaccination rate or change in behaviour, we would have an incidence of 850 [per 100,000 people] in just nine weeks,” Braun said.
That would mean a sharp increase in cases just ahead of pivotal Bundestag elections in September, which will determine Merkel’s successor after 16 years in office.
High infection rates and months of restrictions, along with alleged corruption scandals, triggered a sharp drop in popularity for Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats this spring. The CDU recently rebounded but has taken a slight 2 per cent hit in opinion polls, down to 28 per cent, after the catastrophic floods this month.
Braun said he did not believe a full, strict lockdown would again be needed in Germany. But he warned that, if there were a fourth wave, the unvaccinated may enjoy fewer freedoms than those who are fully vaccinated.
“This could mean some things such as restaurant, cinema and stadium visits would not be possible for tested, [but] unvaccinated people, because the residual risk is too high,” he said.
It remains to be seen how such a hierarchy of restrictions would affect the public mood.
Since Germany’s once-sluggish vaccine campaign took off in the past two months, the country has reached a 60 per cent vaccination rate for the first jab, and 48 per cent for the full dose. But in recent weeks, vaccination rates have stagnated and many residents have not shown up for their second shot.
The infection caseloads have particularly risen among younger populations. Across the state of Lower Saxony, which loosened restrictions on indoor gatherings, the Tagesspiegel newspaper reported that hundreds of people who visited clubs have had to quarantine due to infections.
In the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, state prime minister Winfried Kretschmann, who had long raised concerns over the likelihood of a fourth wave in Germany come autumn, said he would no longer rule out the possibility of mandatory vaccinations.
“It is possible there will be variants that make this necessary,” he told the German news agency DPA, similar to the way measles is compulsory in day care centres because of how infectious it is.
“If there are variants against which the vaccine is no longer as effective, we are immediately in a different situation.”