By Emma Thomasson and Caroline Copley
BERLIN (Reuters) -A third wave of the coronavirus pandemic seems to have peaked in Germany and a record number of vaccinations should help turn the tide, although it is too soon to sound the all-clear as hospitals remain overloaded, health officials said on Thursday.
“The figures must not only stagnate, they must go down,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news conference, adding that a sustainable fall was a prerequisite for the lockdown to ease.
“Two to three days is not a trend. It is a good signal but what is decisive is to make a trend out of it,” he said, adding nearly 1.1 million people were vaccinated on Wednesday, more than 1% of the population and more than on any other day so far.
Germany’s seven-day average of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people fell on Thursday for the third consecutive day to 155 – its lowest level in two weeks, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.
The figure – a metric used by the German government to determine when to tighten or ease lockdowns – hit 169 on Monday, but has fallen each day since. The last time it was under 160 was on April 14, when it was 153 per 100,000 people.
RKI President Lothar Wieler cautioned that the pandemic would not be over until it was under control around the world, noting that global cases had risen 24% in the last week.
New legislation enables the federal government to impose night-time curfews in areas where cases exceed 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days.
The rules also include stricter limits on private gatherings and shopping and force schools to return to online lessons if cases reach 165 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days.
However, the justice ministry has proposed exempting people who have been fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 from these restrictions. The cabinet is expected to discuss the plans, seen by Reuters, next week.
If the European Union’s watchdog approves COVID-19 vaccines for children, Germany will be able to vaccinate school children during the summer holidays at the latest, Spahn said.
The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 24,736 on Thursday – almost 5,000 fewer than those recorded a week ago – bringing Germany’s total since the start of the pandemic to 3,357,268. The COVID-19 death toll rose by 264 to 82,544.
(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, editing by Kirsti Knolle and Gareth Jones)