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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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.