UK coronavirus variant spreading rapidly in Germany, warns Health Minister

The UK variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Germany, where it now accounts for more than one in five cases, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday.

UK coronavirus variant spreading rapidly in Germany, warns Health Minister
Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

According to new data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the proportion of the British coronavirus variant (B.1.1.7) in positive test samples examined in Germany rose from just under six percent to more than 22 per cent in two weeks.

The RKI and laboratories have analysed more than 23,000 positive PCR tests and sequenced the samples in recent weeks in a bid to find out how Covid variants are spreading.

During a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday, Spahn warned that B.1.1.7, which is more contagious than earlier strains of the virus, will become the dominant variant in Germany.

“The mutation that was first discovered in the UK is particularly worrying… We have to expect that it will now become the dominant variant here,” said Spahn.

He added that the proportion of cases with the variant is “doubling every week”.

The rise comes despite Germany partially closing its borders in an attempt to stem the spread of the new variants.

Europe's biggest economy has been filtering crossings from Austria's Tyrol region and the Czech Republic since Sunday, prompting criticism from the EU.

The South African variant is being detected much less frequently in positive test samples, with a share of around 1.5 per cent.

The Health Minister said it was “encouraging” that the infection figures were falling in Germany despite the spread of the variant. This shows that Covid-19 restrictions are working, Spahn stressed.

“We are in one of the most difficult phases of this pandemic for Germany and Europe,” he added. 

On Wednesday Germany logged 7,556 new cases within 24 hours and 560 deaths. The number of cases per 100,000 residents in seven days stood at 57.

More testing Germany for pandemic fight

Spahn announced on Tuesday that free rapid antigen Covid-19 tests will be offered to everyone starting in March.

He said these were an “important tool” in the fight against the pandemic, but no substitute for distance and hygiene rules.

READ ALSO: How Germany will change Covid-19 strategy and ramp up testing

So far, antigen tests have been used mainly for prevention of outbreaks in care home facilities, but recently the strategy has been extended to schools and daycare centres.

It is hoped the availability of more rapid tests in pharmacies and doctors' surgeries, along with self-administered tests, can help Germany return to some kind of normal life as it emerges from months of shutdown.

The Health Minister said investment in testing and vaccinations made sense compared to the cost of lockdowns.

The testing measures are to be paid for by the federal government.

When asked about the number of tests, Spahn explained that rapid tests were sufficiently available, but that he could not guarantee they would always be available at any place and time.

Meanwhile, the first 'at home test kits' should be available at the beginning of March after approval by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, Spahn said.

However, Spahn said PCR tests, which involve samples being sent to a lab, “remain the gold standard”.

He urged everyone who has Covid-19 symptoms such as cough or fever to make an appointment with their doctor to ask for a PCR test.

According to recommendation of the Robert Koch Institute, a positive result on a rapid antigen test should be confirmed by a PCR test, as antigen tests are not considered as reliable as PCR.

READ ALSO: Germany plans free coronavirus rapid tests for all residents

Member comments

  1. Where is the other important contextual information here?! –is this particular strain causing more deaths, more ICU visits, a difference in symptoms? Or is it simply more virulent?? To write an article with a headline including the words ‘spreading rapidly’ but not provide a well rounded approach to the information is misleading and only causes more worry and fear. With cases dropping rapidly in Germany (and beyond) – you have a responsibility to do better, write clearer and not simply throw press releases onto the site because “Jens Spahn says so.”

  2. I concur with Keri. My main take away from the article is 57 cases out of 100,000 over last 7 days. At least that is encouraging.

  3. Have you noticed as soon as the situation starts to improve up pops articles like this. I remember some info from a few weeks ago that this variant was a mild one. I wish I could remember which video it was.

  4. Have you noticed as soon as the situation starts to improve up pops articles like this. I remember some info from a few weeks ago that this variant was a mild one. I wish I could remember which video it was.

  5. If I were him, I would stop warning us and start vaccinating us! At this pace we will reach heard immunity by February 31st..

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now