BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will have the coronavirus pandemic under control by the end of the year, but a new, fast-spreading strain of the virus risks exacerbating the situation, the public health chief said on Thursday.
Germany has so far recorded 16 cases of people with a strain of the virus first detected in Britain and four with the strain from South Africa, Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch health institute, told a news conference. All cases so far were people who had travelled abroad, he said.
These will not be the last variations to be seen, he said, also referring to a new coronavirus variant found in Brazil.
"We will have more variations ... Therefore, don't travel."
Wieler urged people who were offered a COVID-19 vaccination to accept it to relieve the strain on hospitals and said people should stick to social distance and hygiene rules.
"At the end of the year we will have this pandemic under control," Wieler said. Enough vaccines would then be available to inoculate the entire population, he said.
The German cabinet on Wednesday approved stricter controls on people entering the country after a national lockdown was tightened last week and extended to the end of January.
Health minister Jens Spahn has said some curbs were likely to be extended into February.
Wieler said restrictions were not being implemented as consistently as they were during the first wave and said more people should work from home.
Hospitals in 10 out of Germany's 16 states are facing bottlenecks as 85% of the beds in its intensive care units were used by coronavirus patients, he added.
He said wearing heavy duty respirator masks, also known as FFP2, could help protect against 94% of particles, but only if worn correctly. The state of Bavaria has made FFP2 masks on public transport and in shops compulsory from Monday.
On Thursday, the RKI reported 25,164 new coronavirus cases and 1,244 fatalities, a record, bringing Germany's total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 43,881, the tally showed.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Angus MacSwan)