Home » Covid Live: German Government Not Ruling Out Full Lockdown; Austria To Enter National Lockdown, Make Vaccines Mandatory

Covid Live: German Government Not Ruling Out Full Lockdown; Austria To Enter National Lockdown, Make Vaccines Mandatory

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12:36

Bavaria cancels Christmas markets and will impose local lockdowns

This is from Tom Nuttall, The Economist’s Berlin bureau chief.

Tom Nuttall (@tom_nuttall)

Bavaria, with one of the highest covid caseloads in Germany, is closing bars and clubs, cancelling all Christmas markets, imposing contact limitations on the unvaccinated etc. t.co/f2OjHSkdoE

November 19, 2021

The southern German state has cancelled all Christmas markets and imposed a lockdown on all districts that have a seven-day Covid incidence rate of over 1,000 per 100,000 people, Deutsche Welle reports.

In those places, bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as cultural and sport venues will be closed, said the state premier Markus Söder after a meeting of his Cabinet in the state capital, Munich. Schools and kindergartens, however, will continue to remain open.

Bavaria is grappling with one of the country’s highest infection rates amid a ferocious fourth wave of the pandemic.

The state had a weekly incidence rate of 625.3 recorded infections per 100,000 people on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute infectious disease centre, well above the nationwide figure of 340.7 – an all-time high for the country.

“The situation is very, very serious and difficult,” Söder said. “We have a clear goal: fighting corona, protecting people and protecting the healthcare system.”

The premier said there will be a “de facto lockdown” for unvaccinated people by implementing the “2G” rule across the state — referring to the shorthand in Germany for a rule that allows freedoms like access to restaurants and hotels only to those who are either vaccinated or have recovered from Covid.

There will also be contact restrictions for the unvaccinated, the premier said, noting that they will be allowed to meet with a maximum of five people from two households.

At present, eight districts in Bavaria have incidence rates of over 1,000. Even in areas with incidence rates lower than 1,000, there will be restrictions.

For sports and cultural events, the number of spectators will be limited to 25% of the venue’s total capacity. In addition, the “2G+” rule will apply — meaning even the vaccinated and recovered people will be required to produce an additional negative Covid test result.

The state legislature is expected to approve the new measures on Tuesday and they will likely be in effect until 15 December.

Munich became the first major German city to cancel its world-famous Christmas market, which usually draws three million visitors, on Tuesday, blaming the “dramatic” coronavirus resurgence.

The mayor Dieter Reiter called the cancellation of its market “bitter news” for the city’s residents and stallholders, but said it would be irresponsible for the event to go ahead.

The chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed on Thursday to shut the unvaccinated out of restaurants, sporting events and cultural shows after new cases soared to an all-time daily high of more than 65,000.

However, the director of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, told reporters Friday that with the exponential rise in infection levels, the curbs would be insufficient to contain the latest surge [see 10.36am.].

Updated

12:17

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride has said he does not think the region is facing the prospect of another coronavirus lockdown, PA reports.

However, he warned that Northern Ireland was facing a very serious situation and some further restrictions on certain settings may be required if efforts to suppress the current Covid wave fail.

“I don’t think that we’ll go back to the situation that we had before, back in March last year, when we had that lockdown,” he told BBC Radio Ulster, adding that the vaccination programme made that less likely.

I do not think that we will go back to the damaging impact of lockdowns, however we may need to consider our wider restrictions in certain environments and sectors where we know the risks are higher.

But, McBride added, a failure to take decisive action now would most likely necessitate “further interventions” to relieve pressure on the healthcare system.

If we don’t act now and if we don’t act decisively, unfortunately we may well be back advising the Executive that further interventions are needed to prevent our health service being overwhelmed.

The easing of restrictions in the hospitality sector at the end of October had led to a “very significant uptick in cases”, he said.

Separately, the region’s chief scientific adviser, Prof Ian Young, said there is a “menu of measures” that are known to be effective that can be recommended to the Stormont Executive in mid-December if the situation deteriorates.

He indicated those would include restrictions or closures in some sectors, but that closing retail would be unlikely.

“We’re seeing a strong upward trajectory of cases in Northern Ireland and that’s a pattern that we’re seeing in the Republic of Ireland and also in many countries across western Europe as we move into the winter,” he told the Nolan Show.

In about three to four weeks’ time if we don’t take any action then it looks as if the hospitals would be at risk of being overwhelmed.

We’re still not at the levels of Covid that we saw last winter… the hospitals have contingency plans in place and those plans are being activated but if the Covid numbers rise more significantly then even those plans may not be sufficient.

Asked about the Department of Health proposal to strengthen working from home guidance, McBride said evidence indicated that was potentially “one of the single most effective interventions”.

He said people did not need to cancel scheduled Christmas parties at this stage but advised them to take precautions to minimise risk, such as taking a lateral flow test prior to attending.

A further six deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 and another 1,681 cases of the virus were notified in Northern Ireland on Thursday.

On the same day there were 419 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 34 in intensive care.

The CMO stressed the virus is unpredictable, and while officials can model scenarios, much depends on whether the public follow health guidelines.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be very, very challenging,” he told the Nolan Show.

No one should be in any doubt whatsoever about the urgency and seriousness of the situation we are currently now facing into, with the 23% increase in cases in the last week and a 19% increase in hospital admissions with Covid.

We need to act now… it means all of us making sure that we are fully vaccinated, to work from home where it is practically possible.

11:52

There are lessons that can be learned from the success of New South Wales in keeping case numbers low while reopening its economy, Samantha Lock and Caitlin Cassidy report.

In the weeks before Australia’s most populous state emerged from a 106-day lockdown in October, a surge of Covid cases seemed certain to coincide with the easing of restrictions. Experts predicted infections would rise and hospitals braced for a spate of new admissions.

But instead, the opposite happened. Daily Covid cases have dropped and – more than a month after exiting lockdown – the numbers continue to fall.

It is unexpected but welcome news as other parts of the world eye their own rising Covid case numbers with trepidation, reinstate lockdowns and race to roll out booster programmes.

The combination of an impressive and rapid vaccine uptake, together with mask mandates, contact tracing and isolation requirements as well as vaccination entry permits, has largely been credited for containing the outbreak and keeping case numbers low.

Read more about how NSW has defied expectations, here:

Updated

11:32

Germany not ruling out lockdown, even for the vaccinated

More news from Germany, where the coronavirus situation is now so grave that a lockdown, including people who have been vaccinated, cannot be ruled out, the health minister has said.

It comes as neighbouring Austria said it would go back into full lockdown from Monday [see 10am.].

“We are now in a situation – even if this produces a news alert – where we can’t rule anything out,” Jens Spahn told a news conference. He said Germany was now in a “national emergency”.

Markets reeled on the prospect of a possible German lockdown, with bond yields turning negative, and the euro and stock markets falling sharply.

Austria will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full lockdown this autumn to tackle a new wave of infections, and will require its whole population to be vaccinated as of February.

Germany reported a further 52,970 coronavirus cases and 201 deaths on Friday, bringing total deaths to 98,739.

Earlier in the week, the outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel called the situation “dramatic”, saying the fourth wave was “hitting our country with full force”, while the head of Germany’s disease control agency, Lothar Wieler, said the country is heading for a “very bad Christmas season” if drastic measures are not taken to stem the spread of the virus.

On Thursday Merkel said that, in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of patients with Covid, large parts of public life would be restricted to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness.

Germany’s upper house of parliament is expected to pass the new coronavirus measures on Friday.

Spahn also said the health ministry was in talks with Pfizer and other companies to order medicines to treat Covid [see 10.36am.].

Updated

11:04

Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

11:03

Today so far

  • Travellers from England who have had an extra booster jab will be able to display their vaccination status on the NHS Covid pass from midday today, the Department for Health and Social Care has said. The feature will enable those who have had their third dose to travel to countries including Israel, Croatia and Austria, where there is a time limit for a vaccine to be valid to avoid quarantine.
  • Ministers in the UK were not “fully prepared” for the “wide-ranging impacts” that Covid-19 had on society, the economy and essential public services in the UK, and lacked detailed plans on shielding, job support schemes and school disruption, a report from the National Audit Office has found.
  • Austria will go into its third nationwide lockdown for at least 10 days from Monday, and has announced it will make vaccinations mandatory across society from February next year. The new national lockdown is set to last until 12 December but could be reevaluated after 10 days if the pandemic situation has improved. Lockdown rules would end for those vaccinated from 12 December but would stay in place for those who have decline to take the jab.
  • Austria’s chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said: “Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated.” He blamed those refusing to be vaccinated for an “attack on the health system”.
  • Hungary reported 11,289 new Covid-19 infections on Friday, its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic. Viktor Orbán’s government has been reluctant to impose any restrictions, but from Saturday masks will have to be worn in all enclosed spaces except offices and sports halls, and public events with more than 500 people can only be attended with a Covid certificate.
  • Germany’s Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, told reporters that with record-breaking infection levels, the nationwide curbs on the unvaccinated were insufficient. As cases have topped 300 per 100,000 people, the rules for public spaces “are no longer enough in the current situation,” he said, calling it an “absolute emergency”.
  • Germany’s acting health minister Jens Spahn has told a news conference this morning “We are in a national emergency”. Saxony, the German region hit hardest by the country’s fourth wave of coronavirus, is considering a partial lockdown.
  • France will not follow its European neighbours imposing Covid lockdowns on unvaccinated people because of the success of its health pass in curbing the virus’s spread, president Emmanuel Macron has said.
  • Russia on Friday confirmed 37,156 new Covid-19 infections and a new record of 1,254 deaths. There have been over 1,000 deaths officially recorded every day since 20 October.
  • Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida announced a record $490bn stimulus for the world’s third-largest economy today as he looks to shore up the country’s patchy pandemic recovery.
  • The first known patient to become ill with Covid-19 was a vendor in a Wuhan animal market, a scientist has claimed in a report published on Thursday. Dr Michael Worobey, a leading expert in tracing the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, believes the World Health Organization inquiry was incorrect in its early chronology of the pandemic.
  • Rightwing extremists in the UK are using Covid controversies and online gaming as a way of recruiting young people, as data shows half of the most serious cases of suspected radicalisation reported by schools and colleges now involve far-right activity.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for this week. I will be back on Monday. In the meantime, Lucy Campbell will be with you to take you through the rest of the days Covid news from the UK and around the world.

Updated

10:51

Hungary sets new record daily toll for Covid cases

Hungary reported 11,289 new Covid-19 infections on Friday, its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic, the government said on its coronavirus website.

Reuters note that Hungary, a country of 10 million people whose vaccination rate lags behind the European Union average, imposed new restrictions on Thursday. Masks will have to be worn in all enclosed spaces except offices and sports halls from Saturday, and public events with more than 500 people can only be attended with a Covid certificate.

Updated

10:36

Germans told ‘stay home when you can’ by head of Robert Koch Institute

A couple of updates from Germany. First off, Reuters is carrying comments from acting health minister Jens Spahn that the country is in talks to buy experimental antiviral pills. He said at a news conference in Berlin: “We’re in talks with Pfizer, with Merck, also with all the others … all those who have promising medicines.”

Agence France-Presse, meanwhile, is carrying quotes from the head of Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute.

Lothar Wieler told reporters that with record-breaking infection levels, the nationwide curbs on the unvaccinated were insufficient. As cases have topped 300 per 100,000 people, the rules for public spaces “are no longer enough in the current situation”, he said, calling it an “absolute emergency”.

Wieler called for major events to be cancelled, clubs and bars to be shuttered and private contacts limited to stop the spread of the virus. Germans should “stay home when they can”, he said.

Updated

10:13

Over the last two weeks, Austria’s conservative-green coalition government has tried to prevent a collapse of the health system by first making it mandatory for citizens to show proof of vaccination or recovery at restaurants and bars, and then announcing a “lockdown for the unvaccinated”.

Austria will now go into its third nationwide lockdown for at least 10 days from Monday, and make vaccinations mandatory across society from February next year.

The new lockdown is set to last until 12 December but could be re-evaluated after 10 days if the pandemic situation has improved. Schools are to stay open but children can choose to go into remote learning mode without a note from a doctor.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, who has been in office for only a month, said tightening vaccine pass controls and testing requirements has started to make a difference, but “hasn’t convinced enough” people to get vaccinated.

Lockdown rules would end for those vaccinated from 12 December but would stay in place for those who have decline to take the jab.

“No one wants a lockdown, it is a crude instrument”, said health minister Wolfgang Mückstein. “But it is the most effective instrument that we have available”.

The Green politician said constitutional lawyers were currently examining the general vaccine mandate the government wants to come into effect from 1 February 2022.

The Alpine republic is weathering the most powerful wave of the Covid-19 virus so far, with authorities on Friday reporting an incidence rate of 990 cases per 100,000 over seven days.

Updated

10:00

Austria to impose new full national lockdown and make vaccinations mandatory

Austria will impose a lockdown for all and make vaccinations mandatory, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced this morning, making the country the first in the EU to take such stringent measures as coronavirus cases spiral.

The country plans to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory from 1 February next year, while the lockdown will start from Monday and will be evaluated after 10 days, Schallenberg said.

“Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,” Schallenberg told a press conference in the western Tyrol state, where he met regional government heads. He blamed those refusing to be vaccinated for an “attack on the health system”.

The lockdown means people are no longer allowed to leave their houses with few exceptions such shopping for essentials and exercising. At the beginning of this week, Austria already began a lockdown for those not vaccinated or recently cured, becoming the first EU country to do so.

Agence France-Presse notes that infections have continued to rise. On Thursday, a new record of more than 15,000 new cases were recorded in the country of nearly nine million people.

Demand for vaccinations has increased in recent days, and 66% of the population are fully jabbed, slightly below the EU average of more than 67%.

Updated

09:58

Russia sets new record for daily official deaths at 1,254

Russia’s Covid incidence rate is relatively low, given the size of the country’s population, but the official figures have been running consistently around their highest rates in the pandemic so far for several weeks. Russia on Friday confirmed 37,156 new Covid-19 infections and a new record of 1,254 deaths. There have been over 1,000 deaths officially recorded every day since 20 October.

Here’s an updated map with the Covid incidence rates across Europe.

09:35

Booster jab status can be displayed in NHS Covid app from midday today

Travellers from the UK who have had an extra jab will be able to display their vaccination status on the NHS Covid pass from midday today, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

The feature will enable those who have had their third dose to travel to countries including Israel, Croatia and Austria, where there is a time limit for a vaccine to be valid to skip quarantine.

PA Media quotes vaccines minister Maggie Throup saying people can book appointments up to a month before they are eligible for the booster. She said:

Getting a booster is the best way you can protect yourself ahead of winter and it’s great those who have come forward can now demonstrate their vaccination status through the NHS Covid pass if they are travelling overseas.

It has also never been easier to book your booster, with walk-in sites open across the country and appointments available to pre-book a month before you are eligible for your top-up.

Almost 20 million people have accessed the Covid Pass via the NHS app since it was launched on 17 May, the DHSC has said.

Updated

09:28

UK ministers were unprepared for impact of Covid, says watchdog

Ministers in the UK were not “fully prepared” for the “wide-ranging impacts” that Covid-19 had on society, the economy and essential public services in the UK, and lacked detailed plans on shielding, job support schemes and school disruption, a report has found.

Some lessons from “previous simulation exercises” that would have helped with Covid-19 preparations were “not fully implemented”, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The report, which looked at the government’s preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic, also found that time and energy spent preparing for Brexit both helped and hindered planning for future crises.

The watchdog said preparations for leaving the EU enhanced some departments’ “crisis capabilities”, but also took up significant resources, meaning the government had to pause or postpone some planning work for a potential flu pandemic.

Read more here: UK ministers were unprepared for impact of Covid, says watchdog

09:27

Germany’s acting health minister: ‘We are in a national emergency’

A quick snap from Reuters here with a dramatic quote from Germany’s acting health minister Jens Spahn, who has told a news conference this morning amid rising cases: “We are in a national emergency.”

Updated

09:24

There’s a quote here from the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, on that booster jab news. PA Media reports he said: “We want to make it as easy as possible for people to show their vaccine status if they are travelling abroad.

“This update to the NHS Covid pass will mean people can have their complete medical picture at their fingertips if they are going on holiday or seeing loved ones overseas.”

Updated