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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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.