German ICU doctors call for ‘immediate return’ to lockdown as Covid-19 numbers rise

Intensive care doctors in Germany warned Monday that the country would need to make an "immediate return" to partial lockdown if it is to avoid stumbling into a dangerous third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

German ICU doctors call for 'immediate return' to lockdown as Covid-19 numbers rise
Intensive care in the Universitätsklinikum Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: Frank Molter/DPA

“From the data we currently have and with the spread of the British mutation, we would argue strongly for returning immediately to a lockdown to avoid a strong third wave,” Christian Karagiannidis, director of Germany’s intensive care register, told broadcaster RBB.

Germany has seen a rise in cases since before it began a gradual easing of coronavirus measures in late February, allowing schools, hairdressers and other businesses to partially reopen.

A dramatic prognosis released by the Robert Koch Institute on Friday predicted that there would be more new cases by Easter than at the peak of the second wave in late December.

Karagiannidis said he very much hoped that the federal states would enforce the agreed emergency lockdown (Notbremse) when an incidence level of 100 new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days was reached.

“Otherwise we are once again going to see 5,000 or 6,000 patients in intensive care,” Karagiannidis said. “You can see very clearly that we will very quickly get back into rising ICU numbers, if we give the virus the opportunity to grow.”

The federal and state governments agreed on a return to the lockdown at their last summit in early March.

READ ALSO: Germany extends shutdown until March 28th – but loosens some measures

There are currently about 2,800 patients in intensive care in Germany with the Covid-19 disease.

“We won’t gain much by loosening restrictions for the next week or two because we will get to a high level very quickly and it will be twice as difficult at that high level to bring the numbers back down,” Karagiannidis said.

He added that it was important to vaccinate the over-50s and over-60s quickly so that fewer people would become seriously ill with Covid-19.

Last week, the head of Germany’s disease control agency Lothar Wieler warned that the third wave had already begun.

“We must avoid the same situation we were in before Christmas, with many infections, many serious cases and many deaths,” said Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for public health.

On Monday, official figures showed that the 7-day incidence rate rose again to 83 cases per 100,000 people, significantly above the 50 cases mark set by the government as a threshold for any easing in restrictions.

SEE ALSO: German coronavirus cases ‘will be higher at Easter than before Christmas’ 

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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.