Germany’s health minister said Wednesday that the country’s coronavirus infection rate is likely two to three times higher than statistics currently show, and urged his compatriots to be cautious during New Year’s celebrations.
Statistics in recent days have continued to show Germany’s infection rate drifting downward from a spike caused by the delta variant. But officials have cautioned repeatedly that, as in previous holiday periods, the numbers will be incomplete over Christmas and the new year because fewer tests are being performed and there are delays in reporting tests that are carried out.
At the same time, neighboring France is reporting record numbers fueled by the new omicron variant.
On Wednesday, Germany’s official data showed 40,043 reported new cases over the past 24 hours and an infection rate, or incidence, of 205.5 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that “the underreporting is probably of the order that the actual incidence is currently two or three times as high as the incidence we are measuring.”
“We are also seeing a significant increase in omicron cases that causes us concern,” he added.
The minister said there is a “shortfall” in staff that “becomes particularly noticeable” over holiday periods at local health offices, a key part of Germany’s reporting chain. He said that improving that situation will be a “central task” for him in the coming year.
Lauterbach advised Germans to spend the New Year’s period “very cautiously” and celebrate only in very small groups. Restrictions that took effect over recent days included limiting private gatherings to 10 people. Large-scale New Year’s celebrations have been canceled and the sale of fireworks banned.
He said he’s sure that there will be “solid and sufficient” data on infections by the time Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors confer on the way forward in the pandemic on Jan. 7.
Lauterbach noted that Germany’s vaccination campaign has kicked back into gear after a brief Christmas lull and appealed to people who haven’t yet got a booster to book an appointment. So far, 71% of the population has received a full first vaccination course and 37.3% has received a booster.
So much of her is hyphenated, not just her name: Felicia Rangel-Samponaro. With caramel skin and curly brown hair that’s often tied back, she can pass as Latina.
But she identifies as Black.
On the Texas-Mexico border, she’s emerged as a vigorous defender of immigrants, and that work often forces her to reckon with how race and ethnicity — real and perceived — shape lives on the border, including her own.
“There’s a lot of oppression, discrimination and racism that goes on, on both sides of the border,” she said.
Asylum seekers sleep on air mattresses under tarps
Asylum seeker Maria Jacinto Gomez of Guatemala, right, sleeps on an air mattress with her 11-year-old son nearby in a crowded gazebo filled with migrants at the Plaza Las Americas migrant tent camp. Gomez and her son have waiting in the camp for five months.
Rangel-Samponaro’s background has allowed the 45-year-old American to win over skeptics who find they can relate to her, sometimes as Black, sometimes as Latino.
But being a Black border activist is still challenging.
Sometimes, it means getting detained by U.S. Customs, then subjected to a cavity search. Other times, it means confronting Central American migrants cracking racist jokes or correcting people on both sides of the border who assume her white male employee is her boss.
Immigration was not at the forefront of her mind when groups of asylum seekers appeared here three years ago. She was a suburban stay-at-home mom living in the border city of Brownsville with a son in private school. She wore pricy Lululemon activewear, drove a Mercedes and, in her spare time, played Pokemon.
A fellow Pokemon player’s Facebook post about delivering donations to migrants camped on a border bridge spurred her to volunteer. She had crossed to Mexico a handful of times, like many Texans, as a tourist. That first winter day volunteering, she was struck by a new sight: shivering migrants in crisis.
Belgium reversed some of its COVID-19 restrictions Wednesday, allowing for the reopening of cinemas, theaters and concert halls.
The culture sector had said it was being unfairly targeted by the closures, and the Belgian government and regional authorities had come under increasing pressure to undo last week’s restrictions. The fracas highlighted the widening fault line between authorities trying to keep the pandemic at bay with on-the-spot decisions and a public increasingly frustrated by limits on their personal freedoms.
“We heeded the call of the cultural sector,” Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said.
There was rejoicing in movie theaters.
“We are thrilled that we resisted and in the end we won what we had started,” said Peggy Fol, director of the Vendome Cinema in uptown Brussels. “We were disgusted that they hit on culture like that.”
Authorities abruptly decided last week to close theaters and concert halls to contain the surging Omicron variant. But late Tuesday, the judicial Council of State ruled the measures weren’t “proportionate” and questioned “why going to cultural sector performance venues was particularly dangerous for public health.”
The ruling came after a protest of thousands from the theater sector on Sunday and a legal appeal to the Council of State. The court decision concerned theater halls only, but the government extended it to movie theaters too.
Now theaters will be able to open to a maximum of 200 people depending on the size of the room. Wearing face masks and having a COVID-19 pass will be mandatory.