Germany’s virus whiplash.
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Germany was seen as a model in Europe on how to deal with the pandemic — tightly managing the spread of the virus in its early stages. But now, as a fresh surge of the virus is pushing daily cases to record levels, the country is struggling to contain the situation.
Nearly 40,000 new cases were reported yesterday — the third time a daily record has been set within a week. During the same 24-hour period, 236 people died from the disease.
“We’re fully in the fourth wave,” said my colleague Christopher Schuetze, who covers Germany. “There’s exponential growth, and I think it sort of sneaked up on most people who weren’t really watching the situation.”
Experts say there are a number of reasons for the recent surge in infections. Cold weather is pushing people indoors where the virus is more transmissible. The relatively low vaccination rate in some regions is also playing a role. About 67 percent of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated, putting it behind other E.U. countries like Italy, Portugal and Spain, but ahead of the U.S. at 59 percent.
“You actually see in some places — especially in the eastern states, and also in Bavaria in the South — the places where people tend to be vaccinated at lower rates are also the places that are really suffering now,” Christopher said.
Another factor is the waning immunity from the vaccines, and Germany’s booster campaign is running behind some wealthy countries. Only about 3.4 percent of the population has received a booster shot, compared with about 7.6 percent in the U.S.
The surge is arriving at an inopportune moment, in the middle of a transition of power. Angela Merkel’s government is being replaced by a new coalition — not yet sworn in — that is less willing to close schools, enact a national lockdown or impose vaccine mandates, as in countries like France and Italy. The coalition also said it would not extend a federal state of emergency set to expire at the end of November, and instead would have states manage their own virus measures.
“We’re really in unknown territory in this pandemic,” Christopher said. “This time last year, when the cases were ramping up like this, we had restrictions in place — what we called ‘lockdown light’ — but those kinds of measures are not really being considered.”
“It also seems not to have really hit people in Germany yet,” Christopher added. “People are totally surprised that we’re breaking records from a year ago, because back then we felt under siege. Now, I can walk out of the bureau and have a coffee in a room with 50 other people, without a mask. So for many people, there’s a disconnect.”
It has been difficult to gauge parent interest in vaccines for children ages 5 to 11. According to a recent survey, parents split almost evenly into three groups: about a third were eager, about a third planned to wait and about a third were not interested in vaccinating their children.
Today, we got our first glimpse at vaccine uptake numbers among the cohort since the Pfizer vaccine was cleared last week. The White House estimated that nearly a million young children so far have gotten Covid-19 shots — a figure that President Biden’s top coronavirus adviser, Jeff Zients, described as a “good start.”
The White House put together its own estimate because of a lag in reporting to the C.D.C., which typically gathers vaccination data. Officials, Zients said, “estimate conservatively” that 900,000 children have had their first shot. He said an additional 700,000 pediatric vaccination appointments have been scheduled. There are roughly 28 million children in the age group nationwide.
There has been strong demand for the vaccines in some areas. In northwest Washington D.C., a relatively affluent area, there were long lines of parents with their children waiting to be vaccinated over the weekend. A 355-student elementary school in Virginia visited by Jill Biden, the first lady, this week quickly filled 260 vaccine appointments. And in New York City on Monday, officials were caught off-guard by the demand at certain schools, which far exceeded the interest last spring at school-based vaccine clinics for teenagers.
The White House has not publicly set a goal for how many children it would like to see vaccinated and when. When asked today whether the Biden administration had set a goal for children, Zients ducked the question.
“I want to emphasize again that we have plenty of supply for all 28 million kids ages 5 to 11,” he said, adding, “We’re off to a very strong start.”
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The chill of November reminds me of last fall and winter in our Maine neighborhood when my husband and I, bundled in warm clothes, gathered outside in front of a fire pit and shared bowls of soup with friends. This was our way to socialize. Yesterday, my husband stored the fire pit and folding chairs in the garage, and I put away the wool lap blankets and hand warmers. Those of us fully vaccinated will gather inside in small groups this winter. Hallelujah!
— Nancy Heiser, Brunswick, Maine
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