German Health Minister expresses ‘delight’ at drop in Covid-19 infections among elderly

Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday he was "delighted" that the vaccine campaign among the elderly had reduced coronavirus infections among this age group. But he warned that more aggressive variants of the virus still posed a risk to public health.

German Health Minister expresses 'delight' at drop in Covid-19 infections among elderly
Jens Spahn and Lothar Wieler. Photo: DPA

Speaking at his weekly press conference with Robert Koch Institute (RKI) boss Lothar Wieler, Spahn said that “the risk of contracting corona has decreased for our elderly”.

“The incidence (number of cases per 100,000 people in seven days) in the higher age groups has dropped from 200 to 70 within a few weeks,” the CDU politician said. “The strategy of vaccinating the most vulnerable first is working.”

But he added that “mutations are making this path more arduous”.

Spahn confirmed that 4.4 percent of the population has now received at least one vaccination, and he pledged that 11 million doses will have been delivered to the federal states by the end of next week.

“Too many doses are sitting unused in fridges,” the Health Minister said, adding that he government was working on allowing all GPs to administer vaccines in their practises.

READ ALSO: Germany records rise in Covid-19 case amid talk of loosening restrictions

Wieler, meanwhile, expressed concern about the overall pandemic picture.

“Unfortunately, we have been seeing for a few days that overall case numbers are not continuing to decline, they are stagnating” he said. “Several hundred deaths are still reported to the Robert Koch Institute every day.”

The RKI president said that the infection rate had even increased slightly in recent days, warning that cases were once again rising among young people.

“This is the last spring of the pandemic – let’s use it wisely,” he added.

What’s the big picture?

German health authorities reported 9,997 new infections with the coronavirus to the RKI within one day on Friday. In addition, 394 further deaths were recorded within 24 hours.

A week ago, the RKI recorded 9,113 new infections and 508 new deaths within one day.

The seven-day incidence (number of cases per 100,000 residents) moved up to 63 on Friday morning from 62 on Thursday. A month ago the incidence was 94, while the all-time peak of 198 was reached on December 22nd 2020.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the RKI has registered 2.4 million Covid-19 infections. The actual total is likely to be significantly higher, as many infections are never detected. The total number of people who have died with or from an infection with Sars-CoV-2 has risen to 69,519.

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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.