The British variant of the covid-19 virus may worsen the already complicated pandemic situation in Europe and could force tough restrictions for longer than expected. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned of this at a meeting with her party's MPs: "We need eight to ten more weeks of tough measures", Merkel told them, according to the Bild newspaper. This would mean that the current restrictions in the Germanic country, which in principle were to be lifted on 31 January, would continue to be applied until approximately the end of March, just before Easter. However, according to Reuters, three of the participants in the meeting pointed out that the chancellor had not explained that the restrictions should be extended, but warned that "the next eight or ten weeks could be very hard if the British variant spreads in Germany".
The newspaper also assures that Merkel has told her fellow party members that if the new version of the coronavirus is left to roam free, it could cause the incidence of covid-19 in Germany to increase tenfold by Easter. Once again, Reuters sources have lowered the level of alarm, assuring that the Chancellor has referred to the fact that the number of infections has increased tenfold in Ireland as a result of the arrival of the new strain in the country.
After the first wave of infection was successfully overcome, Germany saw its infection figures soar in autumn. This led to the imposition of major restrictions in early November, but the measures proved to be insufficient and in mid-December the bar was raised : total lockdown was avoided, but schools and all non-essential shops were closed, as well as hotels and sports and cultural facilities, which were no longer operational since the previous phase. These measures, which affected the Christmas holidays, were to be lifted on 10 January, but last week it was decided to keep them in force until the end of this month. Now their validity could be extended for another two months.
Despite significant restrictions on mobility in recent weeks, Germany is now at the height of the pandemic. On 30th December it reported the highest number of new infections (49,044) and on 7th January the second highest (45,333). That day also saw the highest number of deaths per covid-19 in the country, 1,152.
The threat is spreading
Despite the fact that there are still no conclusive studies to confirm it, the British variant of the coronavirus, detected in mid-December, is considered more contagious than the original (the British government spoke of a degree of transmissibility that is up to 70% higher). When it was detected, many countries temporarily restricted the arrival of travellers from the UK, but this has not prevented the new strain from spreading throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Last week, for example, the first case was detected in Catalonia. It cannot be ruled out, therefore, that Merkel's concern about the arrival of the new form of the virus in Germany will spread to the rest of the continent.
The new strain has triggered infection rates in the United Kingdom, which over the past two weeks has reached over 50,000 diagnoses per day and on Friday reached a peak of over 68,000, the highest figure since the start of the pandemic. Since January 4, the country has experienced a new form of lockdown: you can only leave your home to buy food, for medical reasons, to exercise once a day or to go to work if there is no option to do so remotely.
In addition to the British variant, another one was detected in South Africa in December, which has also triggered the incidence of the virus in the country to its highest levels ever. On Monday, Japan identified another variant of the virus in four people from Brazil. Experts place these mutations within the predictable behavior of the virus and consider that existing vaccines are probably also effective against these new variants. Even if they were not, vaccines should be able to adapt quickly to provide immunity against these variations.
Germany bought vaccines outside the EU
Besides the possible extension of the restrictions, Germany is also looking for ways to stop the virus from spreading with the help of vaccines. Last week, Reuters revealed that Angela Merkel's government had negotiated directly with German companies CureVac and BioNTech to buy 50 million doses of their respective vaccines. The agreements were signed outside the European Union, despite the fact that the 27 had agreed that the states would not negotiate directly with the laboratories and that they would leave this responsibility exclusively in the hands of Brussels.
According to a German Health Ministry official (and as it is also stated in a document to which the news agency has had access), on August 31st the Merkel government signed an agreement with CureVac for the acquisition of 20 million units of the vaccine that the company was developing, and on September 8th it signed another agreement with BioNTech to secure 30 million doses of the vaccine that the German laboratory had created together with Pfizer. In both cases, it was stipulated that these doses would not be distributed until the EU had received the doses it was entitled to according to its purchase agreements.
The two agreements were signed while the European Commission was negotiating with the two companies, talks that ended in November with the EU buying 300 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech (which began delivery on December 27 throughout the Union) and 405 million doses of CureVac, a prototype that has not yet been approved.
The same Friday the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen stressed that "no member state is authorised to negotiate [the purchase of vaccines] in parallel", but EU sources refused to assess whether the German government's agreements with the laboratories were in contradiction with what had been agreed in Brussels.