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HEALTH

UPDATE: Coronavirus in Germany – what you need to know

As of Friday, five people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Germany. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: Coronavirus in Germany - what you need to know
The hospital in Munich where the patients are in isolation wards. Photo: DPA

We are updating this story on a regular basis.

What’s happening in Germany?

German authorities have confirmed that more than 10 patients have contracted the coronavirus sweeping through China.

At least five of the patients are employees at the car parts supplier Webasto, based in Starnberg, Upper Bavaria,

Last week the first of human-to-human transmission on European soil – a 33-year-old German man who fell ill after attending a training session hosted by a visiting Chinese colleague – was confirmed.

The ministry added that 40 other employees at Webasto in the Starnberg district had been identified as having been in “close contact” with the first patient, and they were to be screened and tested on Wednesday.

READ ALSO:

The patients are in isolation wards.

Bavarian authorities have set up a coronavirus hotline which people can phone and ask any questions. The number is 09131-6808-5101.

A website has also been set up to provide information on the coronavirus.

What do we know so far?

Germany's first confirmed patient, the 33-year-old man, fell ill after attending a training session hosted by a visiting Chinese colleague on January 21st.

The Chinese woman “started to feel sick on the flight home on January 23”, said Andreas Zapf, head of the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety.

The case was confirmed by the health ministry in Bavaria late on Monday and is the first human-to-human transmission on European soil.

The ministry said the man comes from the Starnberg region, around 30km south west of Munich.

The virus, which can cause a pneumonia-like acute respiratory infection, has in a matter of weeks killed more than 100 people and infected some 2,740 in China, while cases have been identified in more than a dozen other countries.

He remains in hospital in an isolation ward, but is said to be “doing well”.

In response to the three new cases, Webasto announced late on Tuesday that the Stockdorf site would be closed until Sunday.

There have been several suspected cases of coronavirus in Germany but only four have been confirmed so far.

What are officials saying?

Bavarian Health Minister Melanie Huml said Bavaria is “well prepared” for dealing with the cases.

Meanwhile Munich virologist, Professor Ulrike Protzer from the Helmholtz Centre at the TU Munich, said there was no need for people to panic. 

She said the danger of contracting the coronavirus in Germany is very low.

Protzer pointed out that many more people in Germany – about 32,000 – are currently suffering from flu.

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted on Tuesday to say that it was “expected” that the virus would reach Germany, and the case in Bavaria showed Germany was “well prepared”.

In another tweet Spahn added that the risk of virus spreading throughout the population in Germany remained low, according to health experts.

Germany has recommended its citizens avoid “unnecessary” trips to China as the virus spreads.

The country is also considering the possible evacuation of its nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus.

What is coronavirus?

It's a respiratory illness and actually of the same family as the common cold.

The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

READ ALSO: 'We have to expect cases': Germany ramps up preparations for coronavirus

The outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan – which is an international transport hub – began at a fish market in late December and since then more than 100 people have died, including a doctor who was treating the victims.

What are the symptoms?

The initial symptoms are not dissimilar to the common flu – as the virus belongs to the same family – which is unfortunately probably going to lead to a certain amount of panic as flu in January are not exactly unusual.

Graph prepared for The Local by Statista

The symptoms include cough, headache, fatigue, fever, aching and difficulty breathing.

It is primarily spread through airborne contact or contact with contaminated objects.

Its incubation period is two to 14 days, with an average of seven days.

How can I protect myself?

As anyone who has ever tried to avoid getting the flu in winter will know, this is not always easy.

Health authorities recommend practising good hygiene, so washing your hands and using sanitiser gel regularly (particularly if you have been touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on the underground), using disposable tissues and throwing them away and covering your mouth with your elbow when you cough.

Chinese health authorities say that the majority of the people who have died were either elderly or had underlying health problems.

What should I do if I think I have it?

If you think you have the illness do not go to hospital or visit your doctors. German health authorities are worried about potentially infected people turning up at hospitals and passing on the virus.

Instead call an ambulance (the general emergency number in Germany is 112)  and tell the operator it is a suspected case of coronavirus.

Vocabulary

(das) Fieber – fever

(die) Kopfschmerzen – headache

(die) Schmerzen – aches

(der) Husten – cough

(die) Atembeschwerden – breathing difficulties

(eine) Erkältung – a cold

(die) Grippe – the flu

(das) Coronavirus – coronavirus

(der) Rettungsdienst – ambulance service 

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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