BERLIN: Intensive care doctors in Germany warned on Monday (Mar 15) that the country would need to make an "immediate return" to partial lockdown if it is to avoid stumbling into a dangerous third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
"From the data we currently have and with the spread of the British mutation, we would argue strongly to return immediately into a lockdown to avoid a strong third wave," Christian Karagiannidis, director of Germany's intensive care register, told broadcaster RBB.
"We won't gain much from staying open for the next one or two weeks, because that will quickly bring us to a high level and make it twice as hard to push the numbers down again," said Karagiannidis, who works for the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI), which tracks intensive care capacities in German hospitals.
Germany has seen a rise in cases since it began a gradual easing of coronavirus measures in late February, allowing schools, hairdressers and other businesses to partially reopen.
Latest DIVI figures show that Germany currently has almost 2,800 people in intensive care, but Karagiannidis warned that the figure could rise to "5,000 or 6,000" if state governments do not respond to rising case numbers with stricter measures.
"It's clear that the intensive care numbers will rise quickly if we give the virus an opportunity," he said, urging the government to press on with vaccinating over-50s and over-60s.
Speaking at a government press conference later on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said that the recent easing of restrictions could be reversed if numbers continued to rise.
He said the agreement reached by Merkel and regional leaders on March 3 should be implemented "not just with regard to the nice passages, but also the more difficult ones".
The agreement included a "reversal of openings" in areas where the seven-day incidence rate rose above 100 cases per 100,000, he added.
On Monday, official figures showed that the nationwide incidence rate rose again to 83, way above the 50 cases mark set by the government as a threshold for any easing in restrictions.
Rising numbers, the spread of the British variant and a slow inoculation campaign have sparked growing fears of a resurgence of the coronavirus just as many Germans were hoping to come out of more than three months of partial shutdown.
Last week, the head of Germany's disease control agency Lothar Wieler warned that the third wave had already begun.
"We must avoid the same situation we were in before Christmas, with many infections, many serious cases and many deaths," said Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for public health.
Government spokesman Seibert also warned against non-essential travel on Monday, amid fears that German holidaymakers were preparing to descend on Spanish islands such as Majorca over the Easter holidays.
After the RKI removed the Balearic islands from its list of risk areas over the weekend, German budget airline Eurowings announced it would stock up its Easter schedule with 300 extra flights to the archipelago - a popular holiday destination for sun-starved Germans.