Germany could be preparing to extend its current lockdown into December as the number of coronavirus infections remains high across the country.

Yet Berlin is hopeful a coronavirus vaccine can soon be rolled out with the country’s health minister expressing optimism that “the pandemic will lose its horror in a few months.”

Officials said Sunday the restrictions, imposed on Nov. 2 and due to last a month, might need to be extended. “There will be an extension,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said, speaking to German media outlet Bild.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet state leaders on Wednesday to decide whether to extend the lockdown, which has seen hospitality venues close, beyond Dec. 2. It has been mooted that restrictions should be extended for several weeks before being lifted ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Markus Söder, Bavaria’s chief minister and leader of the CDU’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), told Bild on Sunday that restaurants, hotels and cinemas should remain closed until December 20, and that there should be a ban on fireworks and alcohol in public squares on New Year’s Eve.

“The wave has been broken, but unfortunately the number of new infections is not coming down. Instead, intensive care units continue to be swamped and the death roll rises,” Söder said in comments translated by Reuters. “Therefore we cannot give the all-clear.”

Infection rate

Germany is approaching almost 1 million coronavirus cases as the number of daily infections remains high. The RKI reported a further 10,864 cases on Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 929,133. The number of fatalities in Germany remains lower than its western European counterparts, however, with 14,112 deaths so far, RKI data shows.

The daily infection count tends to be lower on a Monday due to delayed reporting on Sunday; on Saturday, 15,741 more cases had been reported, and on Friday, 22,964 new infections were confirmed and 23,648 cases the day before that, giving a more accurate reflection of the infection picture in Germany.

“After a temporary stabilization of case numbers at a higher level in late August and early September, there is currently an increase of transmission within the population in all federal states,” the RKI said Sunday.

“The proportion of Covid-19 cases in older age groups is currently increasing. In November, the reported R-values have been fluctuating around 1. This means that, on average, each person infected with SARS-CoV-2 infects another person. As the number of infected persons is currently very high in Germany, this means that there is still a high number of new cases every day.”

The agency warned that there had been a steady rise in those needing specialist care in hospitals too. “Since mid of October, the number of Covid-19 patients requiring intensive care has strongly increased, from 655 patients on October 15th to 3,709 patients on 22/11/2020.”

Health Minister Jens Spahn told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland on Sunday that although the number of infections remains high, the rate appears to be stable. Decisions taken at Wednesday’s meeting between Merkel and state leaders could depend on whether numbers are beginning to fall in the next few days, he said.

“We have now managed to break the wave of infections for the second time since spring. There is currently no more exponential growth. However, this is currently a kind of sideways movement. We are on safe ground, but we are not over the hill yet. Unfortunately, the virus has a very long skid mark. It now depends on whether the numbers will fall in the next few days. A lot will depend on this on Wednesday,” Spahn said.

Vaccination in December

There are high hopes in Germany, as with the rest of the world, that a coronavirus vaccine could soon be rolled out for mass use after vaccine makers Pfizer and German biotech BioNTech, and Moderna, reported that their coronavirus vaccines are highly effective. On Monday, the U.K.’s AstraZeneca and University of Oxford said its shot had an average 70% effectiveness.

Scholz and Spahn commented separately on Sunday that mass vaccinations could begin in December in Germany, with the latter noting that “the pandemic will lose its horror in a few months.”

“The development (of a vaccine) progressed quickly,” Scholz said, adding that “I think the vaccination will start faster than we thought a while ago. We made a lot of money available. The preparations have been made. The vaccinations could start in December,” he told Bild.

Like other European countries, Germany has sought to procure coronavirus vaccines from a number of vaccine makers before they have been granted regulatory approval. In addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it has high hopes for two other German-produced vaccine candidates from CureVac and IDT Biologika.

Spahn believed it would take less than a year to mass vaccinate in Germany, telling RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland on Sunday that, “from today’s perspective, there is a well-founded hope that the Dessau IDT could also obtain approval for a vaccine in 2021. It is very encouraging and can also make us proud that after BioNTech and Curevac, the third German vaccine project is on a promising path.”

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