Authorities in western Germany take action to stop spread of coronavirus

Following six confirmed coronavirus cases in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, authorities are now looking for further people who may have been affected.

Authorities in western Germany take action to stop spread of coronavirus
The clinic at which those infected in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia are being treated. Photo: DPA

The first coronavirus case in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) was that of a 47-year-old man from Heinsberg. His 46-year-old wife, a kindergarten teacher, tested positive for the virus shortly afterwards. 

READ ALSO: Five new coronavirus cases confirmed in western Germany

On Wednesday evening, Heinsberg authorities reported that three other people in contact with the couple had been infected, and are now in quarantine at home. A sixth case was confirmed on Thursday morning.

A spokesperson for the NRW Health Ministry said on Thursday morning that it was now crucial to find all contacts of the infected people, as well as the “Patient Zero”, or person who infected the 47-year-old man.

Heinsberg is situated in far-west Germany, close to the Dutch border. Map: Google Maps

According to District Administrator Stephan Pusch (CDU), the infected couple had an “endless amount of contact” with other people in the past 10 to 14 days.

Authorities called on approximately 300 visitors of a carnival event in nearby Gangelt which the man visited on February 15th to report to authorities.

All carnival-goers and their families must go into domestic quarantine for 14 days, the North Rhine-Westphalia Health Ministry announced early Thursday. 

In Mönchengladbach, the Maria Hilf Hospital is also searching for people who have had contact with a doctor found to be infected with the virus.

According to the authorities, all those infected so far in the western state have been in contact with the couple, who are currently being treated at the University Hospital in Düsseldorf.

'Break the chain of infection'

In the course of the day, the authorities expect numerous more test results from those who have been in contact with the couple.

These include the couple's two school age children, the approximately 65 children of a kindergarten where the 46-year-old infected woman works, and the dozens of participants from the Gangelt carnival event.

Depending on the results of these tests, authorities will decide whether to order domestic quarantine for additional groups of people.

With these measures, the authorities are seeking to ensure that the coronavirus does not spread further. In the past 48 hours, there have been 11 reported new cases of the coronavirus, all in western Germany.

These were the first reported incidents since the virus was first detected in Germany in January in Bavaria. 

North Rhine-Westphalian Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU), however, said on Wednesday that: “We cannot guarantee that we will be able to stop the chains of infection”.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.