Merkel Says Covid Spike ‘Worse Than Anything We’ve Seen’

By BLOOMBERG

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the latest surge in Covid-19 infections is worse than anything Germany has experienced so far and called for tighter restrictions to help check the spread.

Merkel told officials from her Christian Democratic party on Monday that the situation is “highly dramatic” and warned that some hospitals would soon be overwhelmed unless the fourth wave of the pandemic is broken, according to a person familiar with her remarks.

Germany’s contagion rate has set new highs every day for about two weeks. In the eastern state of Saxony the seven-day incidence rate has surged to almost 1,000 per 100,000 people — close to three times higher than the national average. Hospitals are quickly filling up, and vaccination rates remain stubbornly below 70%, trailing countries like France, Spain and Italy. 

The German chancellor said many citizens don’t seem to understand the severity of the outbreak, and that while more people should get vaccinated, it wouldn’t be enough on its own. She called on Germany’s 16 states, which largely set their own policies on coronavirus curbs, to introduce more restrictions already this week.

Merkel, who is due to step down as soon as next month after 16 years in power, has been making increasingly frantic calls for Germany to step up its fight against the virus.

While deaths are at about a fifth of the levels seen last winter, the rapid spread is creating concerns of higher fatalities. Health Minister Jens Spahn said Monday that people who aren’t vaccinated against Covid are almost certain to catch it in coming months and some of those will die.

“Just about everyone in Germany will probably be either vaccinated, recovered or dead” by the end of this winter, Spahn said at a news conference in Berlin. He acknowledged that some might find the statement cynical.

Spahn said last week he couldn’t rule out another full lockdown, after neighboring Austria imposed its fourth shutdown of the pandemic that took effect Monday.

The euro held declines after Merkel’s comments, falling 0.1% to $1.1274. It traded within 0.2% of 16-month low seen last week, which came after Austria announced its lockdown and Spahn suggested Germany might soon follow.

The Stoxx 600 benchmark surrendered early gains of as much as 0.4% and turned flat on the day. The Euro Stoxx 50, a gauge for the euro area’s biggest companies, was down 0.3%. Travel and leisure shares were among the hardest hit, with TUI AG down 0.9%.

While Germany is accelerating its vaccine campaign, the vast majority of Covid shots given of late have been boosters. In the past week, about 75% of the 2.5 million shots administered were third doses, while just 13%, or about 329,000, were people getting their initial jabs, according to the health ministry.

At that rate, only about 10% of the country’s nearly 15 million adult vaccine holdouts would receive their first dose by the end of this year.

“Immunity will be reached,” Spahn said. “The question is whether it’s via vaccination or infection, and we emphatically recommend the path via vaccination.”

Many of the Germany’s famed outdoor Christmas markets have been canceled for the second year in a row, and people who aren’t inoculated face possible curfews.

Starting this week, Bavaria will close clubs and bars, while shops will have to reduce capacity and restaurants will have to shut by 10 p.m. The hardest-hit communities will face even tougher restrictions, the state government announced on Friday. Saxony has also closed clubs and bars, among other measures.

The situation in hospitals is increasingly strained, with clinics preparing to transfer severely ill people to other facilities, according to German intensive-care association DIVI.

The number of Covid cases in ICUs rose to about 3,840 on Monday, still below the peak of around  5,750 during the second wave and about 5,100 during the second, DIVI data showed.

In the states of Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia, Covid patients account for more than 30% of the patients in intensive care. Across the country, there are 2,705 free ICU beds, less than half the available capacity a year ago.

Authorities expect shipments of 6 million doses of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE Covid shot early this week in Germany, Spahn said. Still, boosters alone won’t be enough to curb infections within the next two weeks and people will need to reduce contacts as well, he added.