Coronavirus situation in Germany ‘very serious’, says top health institute

Germany reported a huge jump in coronavirus cases on Thursday, with health experts warning of a "very serious" situation and regional disagreements hampering efforts to slow the contagion.

Coronavirus situation in Germany 'very serious', says top health institute
A face mask lays on the ground in Oberhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the areas classified as a risk area. Photo: DPA

The country reported 11,287 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours — a large increase from the previous record of 7,830 last Friday.

“The overall situation has become very serious,” Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) disease control centre, told a press conference.

READ ALSO: Explained: How and why coronavirus cases are going up around Germany

It is still possible to bring the virus under control through “systematic compliance with restrictive measures”, Wieler said.

But he urged people to observe the rules and cautioned that an “uncontrolled” spread could be unavoidable in some regions.

Germany was praised for managing to contain the virus earlier this year, even welcoming patients from other countries where health systems were buckling under the strain.

Patchwork of rules

The figures are still well below those of many other European countries, but Germany has been facing a steady increase in cases for several weeks.

There are currently 964 virus patients in intensive care, 430 of them on respirators, according to the German Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI).

The number is still far from the record set in mid-April, but 21,401 of the country's 29,799 intensive care beds are now occupied.

At a meeting last week between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of Germany's 16 states last week, new measures were agreed for so-called hotspots, including caps on the number of people gathering indoors and a ban on late-night alcohol sales.

But under Germany's federal system, each state ultimately has the right to decide whether to impose the rules, leading to a patchwork of regulations.

A woman wearing a face mask in Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia one of Germany's current hotspots. Photo: DPA

Concerns over Christmas

One measure that has proved especially controversial is a travel ban that theoretically prevents people from risk areas within Germany from booking overnight accommodation in another state.

But many of Germany's states have refused to comply with the ban, while in others it has been overturned by local courts.

Similarly, some cities are enforcing early closing times for restaurants and bars, but in Berlin the measure was overturned by a legal ruling.

Bavaria, meanwhile, has imposed a full lockdown in the Alpine resort of Berchtesgaden, which has the highest rate of new infections in the country.

Merkel expressed doubt that the new measures would be enough last week, saying “my worry is still not gone after today”.

On Saturday, she asked people to cut down on socialising, encouraging them to stay at home instead.

“What winter will be, what our Christmas will be, will be decided in the days and weeks to come,” she said.

READ ALSO: Merkel appeals to Germans to stay home now to save Christmas

Wieler on Thursday blamed private gatherings, especially among young people, for the dramatic rise in cases.

“The more people gather in private circles, the more the numbers will increase and the further the virus will spread,” he said, adding that young people were currently “the most exposed”.

At least 392,049 people have been infected in Germany since the outbreak of the virus, with 9,905 deaths reported.

Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday became the first German cabinet minister to test positive.

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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.