Status: 01/19/2022 09:09 a.m
Experts assume that most people will soon be infected and the virus will lose its terror. Omicron would then be the beginning of the end of the pandemic. But it’s not that far yet. Why?
How is the situation?
The omicron wave has been expanding rapidly in Germany for weeks. The seven-day incidence has long since exceeded the 500 mark. Today, more than 100,000 new infections were reported for the first time. That is as much as in the pandemic. However, the development differs from previous increases. The symptoms of infection with the omicron variant are apparently actually predominantly milder than, for example, with the delta variant.
This is also shown by the figures from the clinics, where mainly people without vaccination protection are currently being treated in intensive care – even if it must be taken into account that the development in the intensive care units is delayed. “We are currently unable to identify the omicron wave in the intensive care units,” said the President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, Gernot Marx, the “RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland” at the weekend.
The head of the Cologne Lung Center and scientific director of the Divi intensive care register, Christian Karagiannidis, does not expect the number of intensive care patients to increase again quickly. While at Delta around every fifth corona patient who came to a hospital required intensive medical care, at Omikron it was only around every tenth.
However, it is currently mainly younger people with many contacts who are infected. In this age group, the risk of severe courses is much lower. “We are currently seeing a spread of omicron in the younger age groups and not yet in the over 60s,” confirms Karagiannidis. “We’ll have to wait and see when Omikron meets those over 60 and those who haven’t been vaccinated.” So it’s quite possible that the intensive care units will be full again.
And: The number of cases is increasing so significantly that this could offset the advantages of the milder variant.
What does this mean for political strategy?
Politics is in a tricky situation. On the one hand, it should continue to protect as many people as possible from a severe course of the disease and at the same time prevent the clinics from being overloaded. On the other hand, the limitations can be less justified month by month due to the less aggressive variant. Politicians must show a way out of the pandemic – without taking too many risks.
In addition: The traffic light government is planning a general vaccination requirement and assumes that it is an important basis for this path out of the pandemic. But the milder course of the variant and the increased risk of becoming infected despite vaccinations make it more questionable whether compulsory vaccination will be accepted in society. In politics, too, critics of compulsory vaccination see their concerns confirmed. From the co-government party FDP it says, for example: “Omicron is changing the rules of the game.”
Will everyone get infected soon?
Most experts, including the WHO, currently seem to agree on this. “Sooner or later we will all become infected with Sars-CoV-2,” says Hajo Zeeb from the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen. He expects that, depending on the level of immunization of the population, it could be by the middle of the year.
The virologist Christian Drosten sees it similarly. All people would have to get infected sooner or later. “Yes, we have to get into this channel, there is no alternative,” he told the “Tagesspiegel am Sonntag”. He also sees Omikron as a “chance” to get out of crisis mode. The original idea that Sars-CoV-2 can and must be kept completely under control is not feasible.
The virologist Klaus Stöhr refers to the immediate development. “In the next two to three weeks there will be uncertainty as to how high the incidence will rise,” he said “Bild”. According to this, many people would get a natural immunity due to the severe contagion, which would be “planted on top” of the immunization through vaccinations. Both together will lead to lasting immune protection. Boosters could also become obsolete for the majority of people.
When can a change of strategy be expected in Germany?
That is unclear. It is clear that experts are currently warning of an unchecked spread of the disease. But the more people are immunized by vaccinations or infections, the less likely it is that the healthcare system will be overloaded, says virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit. Then the special role of Sars-CoV-2 compared to other infectious diseases is no longer justified.
Schmidt-Chanasit points to the declining numbers in Great Britain. “You can expect that in this country with a little delay,” he says. “So far there is no data that would speak against this scenario in Germany.”
Experts expect high incidences for January and February. “Based on the data from other countries and our measures in Germany, this wave could be over in a month or two,” says Schmidt-Chanasit. “In addition, from spring onwards there is the strong seasonality of the virus. This has a very strong influence on the course of infection – regardless of the virus variant.”
Lauterbach also said on RTL that the peak of the omicron wave in Germany should probably be reached in mid-February. The time for a new discussion will be “in the spring – after the end of the omicron wave,” said Schmidt-Chanasit.
Recently, the voices from politics have been louder, calling for a change of course. Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder told the “Münchner Merkur”: “Omikron is not Delta. That means we have to adjust exactly which rules are absolutely necessary, but also proportionate.”
What are the risks?
A new virus variant: At least at this point in time, several experts consider a more aggressive variant than Omikron to be less likely, but it is possible – and nobody knows how the situation will develop.
“This scenario cannot be ruled out, but it is extremely unlikely,” says Schmidt-Chanasit. Epidemiologist Zeeb also considers an even more infectious variant than omicron to be unlikely in the near future. His hope: “At the moment we are going through the omicron wave and building up immunity – preferably on the basis of boosted vaccinations. This is also important for later variants.”
But he also says: In the case of possible new variants, it can be biologically ruled out that they will become even more contagious than omicron. “But with the same infectivity and then less favorable clinical parameters, that can happen,” said Zeeb.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warns: The unvaccinated person who now gets an omicron infection will have little protection against other variants in the autumn. Drosten said in general about mutation jumps in the virus in the “Tagesspiegel”: “This will continue to happen in the future, every few years or now, at the beginning of the pandemic, maybe more often.”
The children: The virologist Isabelle Eckerle points out that in the omicron scenario, children up to the age of five who cannot be vaccinated would be forgotten. Omikron also does not make the children responsible for the contamination, she wrote on Twitter.
Long-Covid: WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned of the consequences of corona disease. Many people who would have survived an infection would have to deal with longer-lasting health difficulties, Long Covid and Post-Covid-19 Syndrome. Virologist Martin Stürmer expressed himself in the ARD morning magazine reserved. “We still don’t know enough about how Omikron behaves in unvaccinated people. I would still be very careful about that.” In addition, there was a lack of data on long-term consequences such as long-Covid for Omikron.
Sandra Ciesek also refers to the Ed-Podcast to a lack of knowledge about long-term consequences. “It’s far too early for an assessment under Omikron. That remains one of the big question marks and is also one of the reasons why you can’t say: We’ll just let it go.”
Would the Spain model also make sense for Germany?
Spain announced a change of course last week. According to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, experts are working to treat Covid-19 in a similar way to flu. Instead of testing everyone, samples could be taken and extrapolated as the basis for an early warning system.
Experts do not consider the model to be transferrable to Germany. “The basic immunity of the population is crucial – either through the vaccination or a survived infection,” says Zeeb. Spain has a vaccination rate of more than 80 percent, Germany is currently around 73 percent with full basic immunization.
“That means Spain is closer to this endemic situation,” says Greifswald bioinformatician Lars Kaderali, who is a member of the German government’s expert council. According to Kaderali, roughly 90 percent of the Spanish population carries corona antibodies. “And we’re a long way from that in Germany.”
What does the “mild course” mean in the Omicron variant?
Markus Spieker, MDR, Morgenmagazin, January 19, 2022
Why is vaccination still important?
Experts emphasize that vaccination is a prerequisite for the fact that the contagion can lose the danger. The virus should only spread “on the basis of vaccination protection anchored in the general population” – otherwise “too many people would die,” said virologist Drosten. “Because of the high proportion of older people in the population, we have to do this in Germany with vaccinations,” said Drosten in the “Tagesspiegel”.
RKI boss Lothar Wieler argues similarly: “Vaccinations do not necessarily prevent infection, that’s true. But they are the best protection against a severe course.”
Of the 24.1 million people who are at least 60 years old and who are particularly at risk of developing a severe course, 12.3 percent are not vaccinated. Of the 45.3 million 18- to 59-year-olds, 19.3 percent or almost one in five are unvaccinated.