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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Which parts of Germany are worst affected?

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases, as well as the death toll, is continuing to climb in Germany. But large numbers of cases are still concentrated in certain areas.

Coronavirus: Which parts of Germany are worst affected?
A man in Stuttgart enjoys the view solo on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Among Germany's population of 83 million people, the number of confirmed infections grew to more than 41,500 on Thursday afternoon, March 26th, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Koch Institute. The number of deaths connected to the virus stands at around 239.

The actual number of COVID-19 cases is thought to be higher. Depending on an individual state's policies, many other possible cases may not have been tested because they show only mild symptoms or have not been in contact with a known case.

However, on Thursday, Christian Drosten, a Berlin-based senior virologist, said that Germany was carrying out an “extremely high number” of coronavirus tests, which meant experts were aware of more cases, including milder ones.

He said that was one of the reasons why Germany had so few deaths compared to the number of infected people could be explained by the fact that we carry out an extremely large number of laboratory diagnostic tests,” said Christian Drosten, who heads the Institute of Virology at Berlin's Charite University Hospital.

“Estimates from the last days show that we are carrying out half a million tests a week,” he added.

There are three parts of Germany which have been particularly badly affected – the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the southeastern state of Bavaria and the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg.

READ ALSO: LATEST: Germany ramps up coronavirus tests to 500,000 a week

North Rhine-Westphalia

As of Thursday afternoon, the western German state of NRW had more than 10,900 cases – over a thousand more than the day before – and 75 deaths. Just over two weeks ago, on March 9th, the state had registered about 500 cases and the first two deaths in Germany due to coronavirus. 

With nearly 18 million residents, NRW is the most populous state in Germany so it's perhaps not a huge surprise that these are where the highest numbers are.

However, it has spread quickly through the region, particularly in one district where a couple unknowingly infected with coronavirus celebrated carnival in February.

The couple from Gangelt in the Heinsberg district were on February 25th confirmed to be the first cases in NRW.

READ ALSO: Authorities in western Germany take action to stop spread of coronavirus

After the discovery of coronavirus in Heinsberg, which is the westernmost district of Germany, where about 250,000 people live, around 1,000 people reportedly went into domestic quarantine in a bid to stall the spread of the virus. 

Schools, Kindergartens and public buildings such as courts were closed.

On Sunday the federal government ordered strict coronavirus measures, although they stopped short at a full lockdown. 

These measures have been introduced in NRW, with heavy fines for those who flout them.

The district of Heinsberg is particularly affected. Photo: DPA

Now gatherings in public of more than two people are banned (excluding families), non essential shops and restaurants have closed (although they can remain open for takeaway food) and 

With 1,090 coronavirus infections and 27 deaths, the district of Heinsberg continues to be the most affected part of NRW.

This is followed by the city of Cologne with 980 confirmed cases.

Bavaria 

As of Thursday, Bavaria had more than 8,840 confirmed cases and 52 deaths, making it the second worst-hit area in Germany. 

Bavaria, a region of 13 million people, became the first German state to impose a lockdown.

It has also declared a disaster situation with immediate effect to allow for the German army to be drafted in if needed and for hospital emergency contingency plans.

READ ALSO: Bavaria declares 'disaster' situation in bid to fight corona crisis

“We are not locking Bavarians in but we are winding down public life almost completely,” Söder said at a press conference, adding that restaurants in the region of 13 million people would be closed and citizens would no longer be allowed to meet in groups outside.

Last Friday, March 20th Germany’s largest state state had over 3,000 confirmed cases. And on Friday March 9th there were 250 cases.

Here's an overview of the confirmed cases as of Thursday March 26th:

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Two particularly badly affected areas of Bavaria – the villages of Mitterteich, in Tirschenreuth, which has 7,000 people and Wunsiedel, with a population of around 9,600, – have already instructed curfews on residents this week.

The District Office of Tirschenreuth was first to order a lockdown on the town of Mitterteich because of the spread of the coronavirus there.

READ ALSO: Bavarian town becomes first in Germany to impose lockdown

As well as being home to many businesses, Bavaria is close to badly affected areas such as northern Italy, and receives a lot of tourists due to its proximity to the Alps.

This could partly explain the high numbers.

Shoppers queue for a food stand at a weekly market on Thursday, with a safe distance between them. Photo: DPA

Baden-Württemberg

Bavaria is closely followed by Baden-Württemberg which had more than 7,280 cases and 56 deaths on Thursday. 

The state has also introduced strict social distancing measures as put forward by the federal government in a bid to stem the spread of the virus, but has stopped short of a lockdown.

Last Friday, March 20th the state had registered 3,600 confirmed cases and 17 deaths, showing the steep rise in cases, a trend seen in other parts of Germany.

Like Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg is home to several international companies and is close to other badly-hit countries including France and Switzerland which may explain why there are so many cases.

Which cities and districts are particularly affected?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) now also evaluates the case numbers in the individual districts. Munich in Bavaria now has the largest number of cases when it comes to cities (1,503), replacing Hamburg (1,265) (data as at 26th March, 6pm). 

According to the RKI, no patients in the Hanseatic city have died; however two deaths have been registered in the Bavarian capital so far. The districts of Esslingen (492), the city of Stuttgart (503) and the Hanover region (411) have also recorded above average cases.

Most cases per inhabitant are still in Heinsberg (NRW) with around 1,000 cases (among 254,322 inhabitants) and 27 deaths. 

READ ALSO: 'The mortality rate is puzzling': Why does Germany have a lower coronavirus death rate

The district of Tirschenreuth (Bavaria) also reports high figures, with 178 cases (72,504 inhabitants) and three deaths, as does the Hohenlohe district in Baden-Württemberg with 278 cases (112,010 inhabitants). Three people have died there.

Almost every city in Germany has recorded a coronavirus case. But according to the RKI, no cases have been registered in the city of Kaufbeuren and in Kempten, both in Bavaria.

Meanwhile, only one infection has been detected in Eisenach (Thuringia) and one in the district of Prignitz (Brandenburg). Otherwise all remaining parts of Germany are affected by COVID-19.

Who are the patients?

According to Lother Wieler, President of the RKI, this is the current profile of the patients: they are on average 46-years-old and the average age of those who have died is 81. 

Out of a sample, men (54 percent) are still more affected than women (46 percent). The most frequent symptoms are cough and fever, according to clinical information on more than 26,000 cases of infection.

Calm before the storm’

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday, March 26th, he expected the burden on the health care system to continue to rise. 

Although the government is already thinking about how the country will reintroduce public life when the outbreak eases,  Spahn said it was important to remember: “This is still the calm before the storm.

“No one can say exactly what will happen in the next few weeks,” he said. Therefore, Germany must slow down the spread of the coronavirus and at the same time increase the capacity of hospitals, including those with intensive care beds, he said.

“At the present time, it is not possible to say for certain whether the infection dynamics have weakened,” said the RKI head Wieler.

“Some cities and districts have managed to get major outbreaks under control.”

Some of the outbreaks occurred in connection with festivities or travel. “I do not understand why people still celebrate festivities,” added Wieler.

In Germany, several thousand people have already recovered from coronavirus infections. “We estimate that at least 5,900 fellow citizens have now recovered,” Wieler said.

Is everyone being tested?

No. Spahn confirmed that between 300,000 and 500,000 tests were carried out in Germany last week alone, with about 10 percent coming back positive.

“That's likely to be the most tests of any country in the world, in both absolute and relative terms,” Jens Spahn said.  

He added that it was still important that they were used in a targeted manner. The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) asked for understanding that coronavirus tests are only carried out in people with disease symptoms.

Although the capacities are large, they are not enough “to simply test 83 million”, said Spahn.

What matters is the doctor's decision. “We want to test a lot, but we want to test in a more targeted way”, explained Spahn.

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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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