Corona pandemic: Omikron could paralyze the industry – should infected people return to work earlier because of this?
In Germany, too, the debate is picking up speed: One must think about shortening the isolation time – especially with a view to the critical infrastructure, said the chairman of the conference of health ministers, Bavaria’s head of department, Klaus Holetschek (CSU), on ZDF. “It is important that we check the quarantine there.” He expects the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) to present suggestions on this very soon.
In Germany, people who have been proven to have a corona infection must be isolated. It lasts at least five days for fully vaccinated people and at least 14 days for everyone else. A quarantine, which is usually ten days, applies to contact persons or travelers who are returning, for whom it is unclear whether they have become infected. It can be shortened to five to seven days with a negative test. For employees in the health care system, shortened deadlines apply in individual cases when there is an acute shortage of staff.
The chairman of the board of the German Hospital Association, Gerhard Gaß, warns to be very careful with any deviations from the applicable quarantine regulations. “We need significantly more data on Omikron in order to be able to really make decisions as to whether a shortening is possible through free testing at an early stage,” said Gaß to the Handelsblatt.
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If at all, it could only be shortened if the work involved was in highly specialized areas who did not show any symptoms of illness and would otherwise be irreplaceable. Otherwise there is a risk that hospital patients or residents of geriatric care facilities would be endangered by the widespread use of asymptomatic but infected employees.
Critical Infrastructure Protection
The health policy spokeswoman for the SPD parliamentary group, Heike Baehrens, is also slowing down the vigor of the supporters of easing: Politicians shouldn’t try to anticipate scientific advice, she told the Handelsblatt: “The quarantine periods must be based on how the infection process can be contained most effectively can.”
The federal chairman of the civil servants’ union, Ulrich Silberbach, expressed a similar opinion: “The federal government has created an interdisciplinary council of experts on Covid.” It should first comment on the length of the quarantine and then make the appropriate decisions. “It’s best to do both quickly so that we don’t have to wait too long to take any necessary measures,” Silberbach told the Handelsblatt.
Companies and institutions in the critical infrastructure have long been asked not only to have pandemic plans in place, but also to take appropriate precautions with a view to the Omikron variant, said SPD health politician Baehrens. “I firmly believe that this advice from the experts will be followed.”
The Federal Government’s Expert Council on Covid-19 had already emphasized before Christmas that “comprehensive and immediate preparation for the protection of the critical infrastructure of our country” is required so that hospitals, the police or the electricity and water supply are not paralyzed by staff shortages.
But the economy as a whole could also be slowed if the highly contagious Omicron variant should lead to a large number of isolation or quarantine cases. For example, Lufthansa recently emphasized that it had refined emergency concepts and made them more flexible. Nevertheless, Europe’s largest airline has already had to cancel numerous flights.
Ministry of Health: No reason to adjust deadlines
Frank Huster, General Manager of the Federal Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics (DSLV), told the Handelsblatt that shortened quarantine periods “would be helpful for all industries with personnel bottlenecks”. However, the Federal Ministry of Health stated on Monday that “at the moment” there was no reason to adjust the regulations accordingly.
The RKI has so far counted 10,443 Covid 19 cases in Germany that are assigned to the Omikron variant. The institute announced on Tuesday that this corresponds to an increase of 45 percent or 3218 cases compared to the previous day. However, a high number of new and late registrations are expected.
According to scientists, Omikron could soon be the predominant virus variant in Germany. Although it is considered highly contagious, according to previous knowledge it leads to less severe disease courses than the delta variant.
In order to relieve the intensive care units, however, the federal government ordered one million packs of the drug Paxlovid from the US company Pfizer on Tuesday to treat severe Covid courses. According to Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), the first deliveries are expected as early as January. There is already an emergency license in the USA. In the EU, the green light is still pending, the test is currently ongoing.
The epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs from the Berlin Akkon University for Human Sciences therefore considers it possible that the pandemic will weaken to endemic in the coming year as a result of the contamination in the population and the vaccinations. One speaks of an endemic when a disease no longer occurs worldwide, but only in a certain area or population group.
In addition to the rapidly spreading virus variant, vaccination with the fourth dose in the spring could ensure that the virus loses its pandemic potential, he told the news portal “Watson”.
The health policy spokeswoman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Christine Aschenberg-Dugnus, therefore suggests that at least those who have been vaccinated three times should think about easing the quarantine regulations. You can well imagine that with an earlier possibility of self-testing even more people can be convinced of the booster, she told the Handelsblatt. “And according to all that we know, boosted people have a significantly higher level of protection against omicrons.”
The health policy spokesman for the Greens parliamentary group, Janosch Dahmen, said that he considered an adjustment to the quarantine regulation “currently counterproductive”. However, the pandemic taught that one must be ready to react to new developments at short notice.
“Should the spread of the Omikron variant lead to an extreme situation in which the maintenance of the critical infrastructure is endangered, we will have to adapt the quarantine regulations for certain, system-relevant personnel,” said Dahmen. These considerations are already part of the existing federal and state pandemic emergency plans.
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