German optimism over Omicron as Europe dampens new year revelry

Germany’s leading coronavirus expert has expressed optimism that his country could expect a “relatively normal” winter in 2022-23 as Europe prepared to ring in the new year in muted fashion, with many countries limiting celebrations.

As the highly transmissible Omicron variant fuels a record-breaking surge in Covid infections across the continent, many governments have curtailed mass public gatherings and either closed or imposed curfews on nightclubs.

But Christian Drosten, who heads the institute of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital, said on Friday that data from other countries suggesting Omicron infections were milder could take the pandemic into an “endemic situation” more comparable to a common cold or flu virus.

“Of course, it is a good situation if you have a virus that no longer makes you ill but transmits easily so that it can seek out and find all of the immunity gaps among the population and still trigger regular updates in immunity,” Drosten said.

Nonetheless, the coronavirus expert said he expected indoor mask-wearing mandates and an updated top-up dose of a vaccine to be necessary to protect vulnerable people over the course of the coming year.

Germany was at a particular disadvantage because it had a higher percentage than other EU countries of people, especially over 60, who had been neither vaccinated nor infected with the virus, he said, adding: “Those are of course seriously at risk.”

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