BERLIN (AA) - The omicron variant is rapidly spreading in Germany, and people should prepare for a significant surge in coronavirus infections within a few weeks, the country’s health minister warned on Wednesday.
“The actual number of daily new cases are likely to be two to three times higher than the reported during the holiday period. Furthermore, we’re witnessing a significant increase in omicron infections. This worries us,” Karl Lauterbach told a news conference in Berlin.
He said during the Christmas holiday period, fewer people tested for the virus and understaffed local health departments could not timely report the new case numbers.
“The number of detected cases is an underestimate while we are facing a dangerous situation at the moment,” he said.
The Robert Koch Institute reported 40,043 new daily coronavirus infections and 414 fatalities on Wednesday, but also noted the numbers are incomplete due to the holiday reporting irregularities.
The institute registered 2,686 new cases of omicron coronavirus variant over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed omicron cases in the country to 13,129.
European countries, including the UK, France, and Spain have reported record numbers of coronavirus infections this week due to the heavily mutated omicron variant.
Lauterbach called on Germans to reduce contacts during the holiday period, and strictly comply with the anti-coronavirus measures.
He underlined that coronavirus vaccine booster provides the best protection against severe disease and urged everyone to get their booster shot when eligible.
As of Tuesday, 31 million people (37.3 % of the population) have received a booster shot in Germany, according to the Health Ministry.
Authorities are planning to administer nearly 33 million booster shots in the next three weeks, to curb the spread of the virus.
Experts say booster shots are necessary against the omicron variant, as immunity from the initial doses starts wearing off over time. A third dose is providing a high level of protection against the variant, according to preliminary lab studies.