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HEALTH

UPDATE: German coronavirus patient is first human-to-human case in Europe

A German man who contracted the novel strain of coronavirus was infected by a colleague visiting from China, officials said on Tuesday, in what appeared to be the first human-to-human transmission in Europe.

UPDATE: German coronavirus patient is first human-to-human case in Europe
Archive photo shows a man entering an isolation ward in a Munich hospital. Photo: DPA

Other confirmed cases in Europe of the viral outbreak have so far involved patients who had recently been to China.

In this instance, the 33-year-old German attended a training session held by a visiting Chinese colleague on January 21 at the office of car parts supplier Webasto in Stockdorf, in Germany's southern Bavaria region.

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 German man tested positive for the virus on Monday evening after reporting flu-like symptoms.

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.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Germany: What you need to know

He remains in hospital in an isolation ward, but Zapf said he “was doing well”.

A spokeswoman for the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's centre for disease prevention and control, told AFP the German case appeared to be the first instance of a “human-to-human transmission” outside Asia.

Vietnam and Japan have also each reported a patient testing positive for the new coronavirus without having travelled to China.

The Chinese woman working for Webasto immediately sought medical attention on her return to China.

She was confirmed to have caught the virus, which has spread rapidly in recent weeks after first emerging in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The woman had recently visited her parents in the Wuhan region, Zapf said.

In a statement, the Webasto company said it had halted all business travel to and from China “for at least the next two weeks”.

Health officials are checking some 40 people that the two infected workers have been in contact with recently, including colleagues and family members.

The virus has so far killed 106 people and infected over 4,000 – the bulk of them in and around Wuhan.

Cases have also been reported in a string of other countries, including the United States, France, Australia and Japan.

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

Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted 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.

'Ramped up'

As The Local has reported, health officials in Germany have been preparing for the arrival of the deadly virus.

“We have to expect that we will get cases in Germany and we have to prepare for this throughout the entire health system,” virologist Christian Drosten told Deutschlandfunk radio last week.
 
The Charité hospital in Berlin has already “ramped up all test systems” in order to be able to quickly detect a coronavirus infection, said Drosten.
 
Meanwhile, airport staff in Germany have also been preparing themselves.

At the weekend Berlin started an awareness campaign at the airports Tegel and Schönefeld.

Airport employees have hung up posters with information about the coronavirus and distributed flyers to arriving and departing passengers.

France was the first European country to be affected by the outbreak, which has reported three known cases of the virus.

All three had recently travelled to China and have been placed in isolation.

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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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