German Health Minister calls for lockdown, considers Russian vaccine

A health worker is caring for a Covid-19 patient in the IC unit of Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Germany will face harsh lockdown measures in late March if authorities fail to contain a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus.

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LONDON – German health authorities are concerned about rising coronavirus infections in the country and have said a nationwide lockdown is needed to end the ongoing third wave.

Germany has been dealing with high Covid infection rates since October last year and despite an improvement in the month of February, the number of new cases has been increasing since the end of March.

“Many citizens recognize the need to break this wave with additional measures and the majority support stricter rules. One lockdown is needed to break the current wave,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a news conference Friday.

This third wave of the coronavirus is putting pressure on the country’s health system at a time when regional and federal governments are clashing over the right measures.

“The number of intensive care patients is increasing far too quickly. Doctors and nurses have been under constant stress for months and are right to ring the bell,” said Spahn.

“We have to break through the third wave as quickly as possible. That means: reducing contacts and reducing mobility. Only then can further increases occur.”

The country reported more than 30,000 new Covid cases on Wednesday and about 26,000 on Thursday.

German officials are divided on the right approach to address emerging cases, while citizens have become frustrated with the different arrangements between different regions.

But on Friday, reports emerged that Chancellor Angela Merkel was willing to impose nationwide measures and effectively take control of the regional leadership. Merkel has previously said that Germany needs a tougher and more uniform approach across the country.

Speaking to CNBC earlier this week, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said, “If we could come up with similar measures everywhere, it would help a lot and make it more understandable.”

It comes as the German health authorities are pushing for an increase in vaccinations in the country, which is already starting to bear fruit. On Thursday, the daily vaccination number approached 720,000 compared to about 317,000 a week ago, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

“I think we will be in a situation where it will be 4-5 million doses per week by the end of this month,” Scholz told CNBC.

Sputnik V.

During Friday’s press conference, the health minister confirmed that contract negotiations are now underway to purchase the Russian-developed vaccine Sputnik V, Reuters said. Spahn added that there is nevertheless a question mark as to whether these vaccines will be available in the coming months.

The European Medicines Agency began reviewing the Russian shot in early March and will decide whether to recommend it for use in the 27 EU member states. Although the regulator is using an urgent method to monitor the efficacy of Sputnik V, it is unclear when it could receive final approval.

Authorities in Germany have previously said they would consider using the Russian vaccine if the EMA concluded that the injection was effective in preventing the Covid-19 virus.