It will be a dance of aerosols, that’s for sure. Viruses will be there with everyone when the Oktoberfest starts in September and up to 7000 people eat, drink, scream, sing, kiss and sway close together in the tent. “The incidence will very likely be lower at the beginning of the festival than it is now,” says Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology. But even if it is then 500, that still means that 50 infected people will quickly celebrate in such a tent – and infect others. “The festival will definitely lead to an increased number of infections,” says Watzl.
But whether that becomes a problem for Munich and its hospitals depends heavily on who celebrates and gets infected. “At the moment, the strategy is not so much about preventing infections as it is about preventing diseases,” says Watzl.
As long as not too many older and endangered people go to the Wiesn without vaccination protection, the risk is probably limited. “An unvaccinated 60-year-old is exposed to a considerable risk in such a tent,” says the immunologist. “But we have achieved a decent level of basic immunity in the population through vaccination, and against this background you can allow yourself more things again.” At least on the premise that the situation does not develop too negatively towards autumn and that a particularly dangerous variant is driving the pandemic.
The virologist Ulrike Protzer is also rather relaxed about the decision from the town hall. “If the situation doesn’t change dramatically, then you can take responsibility for it,” says the director of virology at the TU and at the Helmholtz Center in Munich. “But you have to watch carefully how the situation is internationally.”
The city should order the vaccine early enough, the expert advises
If dangerous virus variants develop or the incidence increases dramatically, the strategy must be adjusted accordingly and access restrictions may have to be imposed, for example for the unvaccinated. Of course, one or the other visitor will also bring an infection from abroad, says Protzer. In extreme cases, access restrictions for people from certain virus variant areas might therefore be necessary.
Travelers can introduce unpleasant virus variants, says the immunologist Watzl. “And if people come from countries where the vaccination rate is low or where vaccines that are not as effective are used, then it is possible that they will become seriously ill here.” As a result, there could be a significant increase in the number of patients in intensive care units.
The virologist Protzer appeals to the city of Munich to start a targeted vaccination campaign aimed at the Oktoberfest again before the Oktoberfest. She would also attend the festival herself. “I’ve been vaccinated three times, and if I don’t get infected by then, I would have a fourth injection given before going to the Wiesn.”
Protzer considers a fourth vaccination to be advisable about 14 days before the festival visit, i.e. at the beginning of September. “This vaccination then offers protection over the coming winter,” she says. She also recommends a fourth vaccination to people who are not planning to visit the Oktoberfest. “But that will be enough in mid-September,” said Protzer. Because in the past two years, the number of infections only increased again in mid-October after their summer rest. So Protzer absolutely needs one thing when preparing for the Wiesn in the city: “That there are enough vaccines and vaccination options available.”