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Germany has crossed Omicron peak: Health minister

BERLIN (AP) – Germany has crossed over the peak of new daily infections with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the country’s health minister said yesterday.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said government measures to curb infection numbers have been effective, but he warned against relaxing the public health rules too hastily. “We are not really in safe waters,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Lauterbach, an epidemiologist by training, noted that as many as 12 per cent of people over age 60 in Germany are still unvaccinated. That share is three to four times higher than that of unvaccinated, vulnerable population groups in comparable countries.

Germany has been slower than many of its neighbours to relax pandemic restrictions.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country’s 16 state governors agreed on Wednesday on a three-step plan to end most of the country’s COVID-19 rules by March 20.

Lauterbach defended the cautious approach, saying that “if we open too quickly, then the case numbers will rise again”.

Federal Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach, answers questions from journalists at a press conference. PHOTO: AP

He also said a general vaccine mandate was still necessary, noting that new or existing variants of the virus could lead to a fresh wave of infections in the fall that could put a severe strain on the health system.

Lauterbach urged opposition lawmakers not to block compulsory vaccination proposals over party politicking. Parliament is expected to hold a free vote on the issue, but the opposition Union bloc has increasingly moved away from backing the idea in recent weeks.

Germany’s disease control agency yesterday reported 220,048 newly confirmed daily cases of COVID-19 and 264 additional deaths.

The Robert Koch Institute said almost a quarter of the German population – nearly 20 million people – haven’t been vaccinated. This includes about four million children under five for whom vaccination hasn’t yet been authorised, it said.