Thomas Voshaar, chief physician of a lung clinic, sees more opportunity than danger in a contagion. Omicron cannot be stopped. What other experts say?
The majority of Germans will contract the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Thomas Voshaar is convinced. You can "hardly slow down" the variant, said the chief physician of the Bethanien Lung Clinic in Moers (NRW) and president of the Association of Pneumological Clinics (VPK) in an interview with Deutschlandfunk on Friday morning.
He went even further, saying a sentence that is likely to polarize: "We have to hope for 100 percent of the German population to be infected with Omikron."There is no other way out of the pandemic into an endemic state. "We must learn to live with it."
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The highly contagious Omicron variant now accounts for 95 percent of all coronavirus infections in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported in its latest weekly report. Thus, since the beginning of the year, Omikron has almost completely pushed back the Delta variant.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and virologist Christian Drosten currently still warn against a rapid contagion. Before that, the wave of infection would have to be greatly slowed down and the number of booster vaccinations increased. Lauterbach expects peak of up to 400 in February.000 new infections per day. On Friday, the RKI counted more than 190.000 cases.
If the population were to be infected at an early stage, the number of victims would "certainly be too high," the SPD politician warned in a joint press conference with Charite virologist Christian Drosten and RKI President Lothar Wieler in mid-January.
England and Denmark end corona measures
The situation is different in Spain, the UK and Denmark, where governments are already preparing for the post-pandemic period. With the withdrawal of Corona measures, Omikron is given a free ride. Spanish government advocates to downgrade Covid-19 to an endemic disease.
Meanwhile, England and Denmark plan to relax Corona measures. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced last week that he would "replace legal requirements with advice and recommendations".
"We must learn to live with covid", the British Health Minister Sajid Javid had already demanded at the beginning of the year. Infection figures have been falling drastically since the beginning of the year, after many hundreds of thousands of Britons had been infected every day. Since Thursday, masks no longer have to be worn in England.
Denmark to end mandatory masks in early February. By then, half the population will have contracted the corona virus, predicted Danish virologist Lone Simonsen of Roskilde University.
Denmark likely to be close to Corona peak
Infection numbers remain high, "but our current assessment is that the epidemic will peak in the near future," Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
The seven-day incidence in Denmark on Thursday was almost 5500. Significantly higher than the German figure, which the RKI said on Friday was 1073. However, there are significantly fewer people living in the northern neighboring country. 51.000 new Corona infections counted by Danes in the past 24 hours – about a quarter of the cases in Germany.
That daily case numbers are no longer the most important metric in the Omikron craze was demonstrated by a tweet from the Danish health minister: "We have the hospitalization rates well under control," he wrote on the short messaging service.
Peak burden in hospitals "bearable"
Lung specialist Thomas Voshaar shares the same opinion in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio: "There is nothing to suggest that intensive care units are reaching their limits". He added that occupancy rates there are steadily declining.
In the face of rapidly rising corona case numbers, Christian Karagiannidis, scientific director of the Divi Intensive Care Registry, on Friday called the situation in intensive care units still "acceptable". Nevertheless, the increase in new infections would also slowly have an effect on the hospitalization rate again.
In normal wards, one would have to endure the expected peak load "for a few weeks," says Vosharr. And the burden is also bearable, he believes. This would bring Germany "one giant step further" in the pandemic.
The first step has already been taken with the vaccinations against the coronavirus, the second step must now be taken with natural infections. This is "incredibly valuable".
"What remains is the mathematical capacity problem of the medical care facilities," retorts Torsten Bauer, chief physician at the Heckeshorn Lung Clinic in Berlin and president of the German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine e.V. (DGP), at the request of the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Bauer stresses that while infection with the Omikron variant is milder than the three previous variants, a massive increase in new infections and hospitalizations would put the health care system "back where we didn’t want to be anymore".
"So we still have to be a little mindful and continue to push the vaccination issue, not so much because of the current wave, but to be prepared for the 2022/23 season," says the chief physician.
Drosten warns of "vaccination gaps" in Germany
Christian Drosten, a virologist at Charite University Hospital and a member of the German government’s expert commission, is also critical of the contagion at this time. In mid-January, he said, "We don’t know at the moment whether we can afford it in Germany given the vaccination gaps."
The fact is that the U.K. and Denmark have already been much more successful with their vaccination campaigns than Germany has been. The booster rate in the two countries is more than 60 percent. In Germany, only 52.2 percent of the population has received a booster shot with a Corona vaccine. Vaccination rates are also higher in the particularly vulnerable elderly group.
Voshaar does not mention the unvaccinated at all in his interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. In the five- to eleven-year-old age group, only 8.6 percent of people have received two vaccinations – 17.3 percent have received at least one Corona vaccination, the RKI reports.
Just recently, Lauterbach wrote on Twitter, "Vaccination rates in children are too low. Contagion in schools would be risky". The German government’s Council of Experts warned as recently as the beginning of January of bottlenecks "especially in the area of children’s hospitals".
And there was something else Voshaar did not address: Little research has also been done on the long-term effects of Corona infection – also called long- and post-covid. 40 percent of all infected persons would not have regained their previous performance capacity even six months after contracting the disease, according to a study by the University Medical Center Mainz. Women are particularly affected.
Strategy against the coronavirus Lauterbach and Drosten warn against too early contamination
So, before Germany takes a chance on a contagion, it is still necessary to close the "vaccination gap" as best as possible. "We are gaining time with each passing day" to delay the peak of the wave, RKI President Lothar Wieler said Friday. If this succeeds, relaxations of the Corona measures could begin as early as the end of February or the beginning of March, Lauterbach held out the prospect.