German Covid cases are rising exponentially and there is not enough vaccine to stop them, health chiefs have warned, raising the prospect of Europe’s largest economy going back into lockdown in the coming weeks.
Jens Spahn said it would take weeks to vaccinate the country’s most vulnerable people, even after a week-long ban on using AstraZeneca jabs was lifted after regulators found it is safe.
Covid cases are also surging in France, which has been forced to put several regions including Paris back into lockdown starting at midnight tonight, a day after the country also lifted its block on Astra jabs.
But in an astonishing move, French leaders today said the jab’s use will be restricted to those aged over 55 due to continuing blood clot fears – a reversal of the country’s earlier position that only young people should get it.
France is not the only country to continue restricting AstraZeneca jabs. Norway, Denmark and Sweden have said they will continue their own investigations into blood clots before ruling the jab is safe, with decisions not expected until next week.
Meanwhile there has also been no reaction so far from governments in Ireland or Iceland, where use of the jab remains suspended.
That is despite a majority of European countries seeing Covid cases rise driven by new and more-infectious forms of the disease, while experts warned that ‘thousands’ of lives will be lost due to scaremongering around AstraZeneca’s jab.
Germany’s infection rate has leaped upwards again with the daily average now at 12,000 cases per day, stymying efforts to re-open the economy even as frustration with lockdown grows
The death rate is well below where it was two months ago but Germany’s health minister warns there is not enough vaccine to protect vulnerable people from the looming third wave
Like most of the EU, Germany is lagging far behind Britain in its vaccination campaign and has not immunised enough people to hold back a third wave of the disease
The countries in green have already reinstated the AstraZeneca vaccine while those in red have yet to make an announcement or say that they will not immediately restart the jabs. Those in orange banned a particular batch of doses, while the countries in grey – including the UK – remained unmoved by the blood clot fears all along
Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the temporary stoppage in more than a dozen EU countries was likely to ‘translate into many, many lives lost due to Covid’.
‘Because of this delay, and because of the uncertainty now of the vaccine in some people’s minds…I think it will probably run to thousands of lives that have been lost,’ he told Times Radio.
Italy has already had to scrap 200,000 injections because of the AstraZeneca delay, while a survey published this week found that 49 per cent of Italians had their confidence in vaccines shaken by the furore.
German immunologist Carsten Watzl warned of more deaths after tens of thousands of appointments were missed – urging people to take AstraZeneca’s jab rather than wait for the Pfizer/BioNTech one co-developed in Germany.
Angela Merkel is due to meet with leaders of Germany’s 16 states on Monday to discuss whether to extend a lockdown that has been in place since mid-December.
The long lockdown and vaccine chaos have sapped public confidence in Merkel’s party, which took a kicking from voters at two regional elections last Sunday.
But plans to ease restrictions may now have to be shelved as cases climb well above the threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 seen as a benchmark for re-opening society.
The current rate is 95.6 after Germany added nearly 84,000 new cases in the last week, a sharp jump from 63,000 the week before.
Cases reached a peak of 181,000 per week in December, but health experts warn those levels of contagion could return because of the feared British strain.
Germany’s Robert Koch diseases institute says the UK variant – believed to be more transmissible – is now making up more than half of new confirmed cases.
Lars Schaade, vice-president of the RKI, today warned that Germany could be in a similar situation by Easter as it was at Christmas.
That would mean ‘very high case numbers, many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed,’ Schaade said.
It would scupper the plans drawn up at Merkel’s last round of talks to gradually re-open the economy, with some shops already open by appointment only.
Schaade urged people not to travel over the Easter holiday period because case numbers were rising exponentially.
Merkel’s government is also under fire over the vaccine chaos, with Spahn accused of caving in to political pressure by suspending AstraZeneca jabs this week.
Germany joined more than a dozen EU countries in pausing AstraZeneca shots over fears of blood clots which have not been proven to result from the jabs.
EU regulators gave their definitive ruling on Thursday, saying the shot was safe and effective – prompting Germany to reinstate the AstraZeneca jab.
German immunologist Carsten Watzl warned of more deaths after tens of thousands of appointments were missed because of the suspension.
The EU’s slow progress on vaccinations is putting countries at risk of devastating third waves, with nations including Germany, Italy and France all seeing infection rates climb again this month
Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn at a press conference in Berlin today where he warned that the EU’s biggest economy may have to tighten its restrictions again
But progress was slow even before then, with many Germans preferring to wait for the Pfizer/BioNTech product that was co-developed by a German firm.
Official figures show Germany has handed out only 10.3million doses so far, compared to 27.6million in the UK which has a smaller population.
Around 8.5 per cent of Germany’s population has had a first injection, while 3.8 per cent have had their full two doses.
While Germany has received more than three million doses of AstraZeneca’s product, only around 1.8million of these have been administered so far.
Germany initially restricted the product to over-65s – prompting Merkel, 66, to say she could not take it as an example to the population.
There has been no word on whether the chancellor will take the jab now that it has been opened up to all age groups.
To add to Merkel’s woes, her party has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that began with claims of lawmakers making money from mask procurement.
Merkel’s conservative bloc – which enjoyed a bounce in the polls in the early months of the pandemic – is now polling at just 29 per cent nationally.
Ursula von der Leyen has told Britain to hand over doses of AstraZeneca vaccine or else risk seeing jab exports from the continent blocked, despite the fact that most of Europe has halted its use
Some German politicians have called for the Russian-made Sputnik V jab, pictured, to be deployed in the EU to speed up Europe’s flagging vaccine campaign
Meanwhile as doubts continue over Europe’s AstraZeneca campaign, calls have been growing in Germany to turn to Russia to get hold of its Sputnik V jabs.
The Russian-made shot defied sceptics by proving highly effective in trials and its use in the EU would amount to a major propaganda coup for the Kremlin.
Several German state premiers have this week given their backing to Sputnik V, which has not yet been ruled on by EU regulators.
They include Bavarian leader Markus Soeder, who is seen as a contender for Merkel’s job when she steps down following elections later this year.
‘It’s important to accelerate approval procedures, especially in the case of Sputnik,’ Soeder said after state premiers held talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.
He added that studies of the Russian vaccine had shown that it was ‘highly safe’ and ‘in some cases better than vaccines which have already been approved’.
Other politicians to back the jab include state premiers from the former East Germany where Russian-made vaccines were commonplace.
Sputnik V’s developers claimed this week to have production deals with companies in Italy, France, Spain and Germany, although the nature of these is not clear.
France and Spain they were not aware of any formal contracts, while German pharmaceutical company IDT Biologika said it was ‘still in talks’ with Russia.
The Department of Health and Social Care said 25,273,226 in the UK have received their first dose of AstraZeneca of Pfizer vaccine between December 8 and March 16