LATEST: Germany launches app in bid to monitor coronavirus spread

Germany's centre for disease control on Tuesday urged people with smartwatches and fitness bands to share their health data to help keep track of the spread of the coronavirus.

LATEST: Germany launches app in bid to monitor coronavirus spread
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said it was launching an app called Corona Datenspende (Corona Data Donation) that would allow people to voluntarily and anonymously share information from their fitness trackers that could reveal signs of a Covid-19 infection.

The free app will log a person's postcode, age and weight and keep track of any changes in activity and sleep habits, heart rate or even body temperature that could be symptoms of an acute respiratory disease, RKI head Lothar Wieler said at a press conference on Tuesday April 7th.

The app “would help to better estimate where and how fast Covid-19 is spreading in Germany,” Wieler said.

But he stressed that the app, developed with e-health company Thryve, could not make a diagnosis or replace a coronavirus test.

The RKI will use the combined fitness data to create an online map of Germany where infection rates could be looked up by postcode, Wieler said.

“This would give scientists data about infection processes and whether the measures we have taken are working,” he added.

The RKI hopes 10 percent of the roughly 10 million people in Germany with smartwatches or fitness bracelets like Fitbit will join up.

“But if we could reach 100,000 or even 10,000 people that would be excellent,” added the RKI's epidemiological modelling expert Dirk Brockmann.

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

Rising number of cases among elderly

It came as the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 in Germany continued to increase.

“Despite the declining number of new infections, it cannot be assumed that the situation will ease,” said Wieler.

As of Tuesday at 10am, Germany had more than 103,375 confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the outbreak –  according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

They differ slightly from RKI figures which only take into account electronically transmitted figures from Germany's states and are updated once a day.

There have also been more than 1,800 confirmed deaths, with increasingly more cases being reported in old people's homes. More than 36,000 people are reported to have fully recovered.

The death rate stands at around 1.6 percent, which is a far lower mortality rate than in other European countries.

Germany has put it down to early and widespread testing as well as a world-class health system with more critical care beds than many other nations, allowing it to take in dozens of patients from hard-hit Italy, Spain and France.

Wieler stressed that it was too soon to relax any of the confinement and social distancing measures that have kept German schools and businesses closed for the past weeks.

READ ALSO: Germany bans gatherings of more than two to control coronavirus spread

“We are also seeing an increasing number of cases of illness among the elderly,” said the RKI chief. He said that more than 10,700 people are currently undergoing inpatient treatment for Covid-19.

The increased death figures are also due to the fact that there have been more outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals, said Wieler, adding at the average age of victims is 80-years-old.

Regarding the question of intensive care beds in Germany, the RKI chief said that capacity was currently sufficient. However, he could not predict what would happen in future.

“Our tactics are still working well,” said Wieler. “We still have enough ventilation places and intensive care beds.” 

Hospital register announced

Together with the German Interdisciplinary Association (DIVI), the RKI has created an intensive care register where German hospitals are being asked to enter the occupancy of their beds. 

Currently, just over 1,000 hospitals are listed in the intensive care register. Wieler called on all hospitals across Germany to add to the register.

“I am glad about every single bed, because every space can save human lives,” he said.

Meanwhile, a study will be conducted in different coronavirus hotspots across Germany to gain insight into the respective dynamics of the outbreaks at different locations.

“The more studies we do, the more we learn about the spread of the virus,” Wieler said.

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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.