German government seeks to shorten quarantine time despite Omicron and rising infections

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Although the number of coronavirus tests during the holidays was significantly lower and the health services reported only a fraction of cases to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the 7-day incidence level has increased again in the past six days. On Tuesday, it officially stood at 239.9 per 100,000 inhabitants. The RKI reported 30,561 new infections and 356 additional deaths.

In fact, the numbers are several times higher. Before the start of the new year, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (Social Democratic Party, SPD) explained that the actual data is “probably two to three times higher [than] the incidence rates that we are currently recording. With a value between 460 and 700, the incidence level is therefore already well above the previous maximum value of the “fourth wave”.

Additionally, there is the massive spread of the even more infectious Omicron variant. Since November 15, the RKI has officially recorded more than 30,000 infections of this variant. On Monday alone, 3,524 more people were infected with Omicron, a 13% increase from the previous day. Nationally, the variant already accounts for almost a fifth of infections. However, due to the low rate of genetic sequencing in Germany, the number of unreported cases is much higher.

A look at the pandemic in neighboring European countries and internationally shows the explosive nature of the Omicron wave. In Denmark, one of the first countries affected by Omicron, the 7-day incidence level is currently 2,505. In France, where Omicron has become the predominant variant in recent days, the incidence level is 1,665 .

Crowded underground in Berlin on November 12 (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

In the UK, the numbers are also exploding, reaching new heights every day. On Friday alone, there were 190,000 cases in one day. Hospital admissions are at their highest level since January. In the United States, there is currently an almost vertical increase in the number of cases: in 24 hours, there were 440,000 new infections, more than double the height of the pandemic so far.

In Germany, the situation in hospitals is already dire. The adjusted hospitalization rate is about seven, which translates to 5,000 to 6,000 hospitalizations per week.

The number of patients receiving intensive care continues to exceed 4,000. This threatens to increase significantly with the Omicron variant and disrupt hospital capacity. The RKI rates the health risk for anyone who has not been triple vaccinated as “high” to “very high.” This currently applies to more than 60% of the population.

The ruling class knows what disaster the spread of Omicron will bring. A “very high disease burden from Omicron is to be expected,” according to the latest document from the Conference of State Premiers. The “sharp increase in the number of infections and their consequences” could thus “reach a level that would restrict the functioning of critical infrastructures (KRITIS, including hospitals, police, fire, emergency services, telecommunications, electricity and water supply and related logistics).”

In its first statement, the federal government’s expert council on COVID-19 warned that the high incidence of the infection meant that “a relevant part of the population will be simultaneously sick and/or in quarantine”.

Instead of taking the necessary measures to protect the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of people, the ruling class responds with regulations that do everything to keep workers on the job, allowing profits to be maximized.

For example, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (Social Democrat) is considering shortening the quarantine period. At the next federal-state meeting on Friday, there will “definitely be new decisions, because we have to think about how to change the quarantine regulations,” Lauterbach explained in an interview with broadcaster RTL/ntv on Sunday evening.

Last week, the US government reduced the quarantine period from 10 to just five days. On Sunday, France followed suit and reduced quarantine for fully vaccinated infected people to seven days and, for those with a negative rapid test, even to five. For fully vaccinated contacts, quarantine will be completely waived.

The measurements will further fuel Omicron’s already massive spread. Since the start of the pandemic, it has been known that infected people can transmit the virus even if they show no symptoms.

Serious scientists castigate the measurements. Berlin microbiologist and global health expert Timo Ulrichs told rbb-Inforadio that he was “looking with concern” at government parties’ plans to shorten the quarantine period. “If we end quarantine too soon, people can still be contagious and transmit the virus in the final stage – and maybe we shouldn’t be doing that,” he said.

The federal and state governments are pursuing a deliberate policy of mass infection. After the Christmas holidays, schools resume in-person instruction with full classes. This week, pupils in Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony and Thuringia are to return to school. The other federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Bremen, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein will follow next week.

“We must do everything to keep the schools open,” Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (Liberal Democratic Party, FDP) wrote on Twitter. Face-to-face teaching was “a matter of equal opportunity”, and she cynically wished all students, parents and teachers a “good and safe start”. Indeed, returning to overcrowded classrooms without air filters is a recipe for mass infection. It is not about “equal opportunities”, but about keeping children in school so that their parents are forced to work.

A look at the stock markets shows the interest in such policies being implemented. At over 16,000 points, Germany’s DAX stock index is approaching a new all-time high in the new year. While the majority of the population is facing income losses and layoffs and had to risk their lives and health on the job, the top 10% continue to grow richer from the pandemic and mass deaths.

The murderous politics of profits before life underscores that the fight against the pandemic requires a fight against the capitalist profit system and its political representatives. The working class must step into the political arena as an independent force and take the fight to end the pandemic into their own hands. It should be based on the following principles formulated by the Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (Socialist Equality Party) at the end of the year in its “Open Letter to the Working Class”:

1. The current policy of “herd immunity”, which allows the unlimited spread of COVID-19 within the population, must be rejected. Instead, the implementation of a new strategy aimed at the elimination and eradication of SARS-CoV-2 is needed.

2. Containment measures should be guided by public health needs. The protection of human life and the safety of the population must have absolute and unconditional priority over the financial interests of companies. The costs of fighting the pandemic – including paying wages and salaries, compensating small business owners, comprehensive medical care for the sick and payments to survivors – must be borne by big business. There must also be a 100% tax on pandemic profits made by large investors from rising stock prices.

3. The fight against the pandemic must be waged on a global scale. The pandemic can only be stopped if SARS-CoV-2 is eliminated in all countries. Workers in Germany and throughout Europe must demand that their colleagues in less developed countries receive the necessary vaccines free of charge.

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