Germany warns of ‘exponential’ coronavirus spread

Coronavirus cases in Germany are rising at a "very clearly exponential rate", a top public health institute said Friday, as the EU's biggest country debated tightening a shutdown.

Germany warns of 'exponential' coronavirus spread
The city of 'Salzgitter' in Lower Saxony has applied the emergency brakes following a Covid-19 7-day incidence rate of more than 200.

The vice president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Lars Schaade, told reporters that highly contagious virus variants were getting the upper hand, wiping out progress seen last month in containing the pandemic.

“It is very possible that we will have a similar situation over Easter to the one we had before Christmas, with very high case numbers, many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed”.

The RKI on Friday reported 17,482 new infections in the previous 24 hours and 226 deaths in Germany, with the seven-day incidence rate soaring to 96 per 100,000 people despite a months-long shutdown of large swathes of public life.

German leaders agreed earlier this month to impose new restrictions in regions where the seven-day incidence rate surpassed 100.

The country’s second city of Hamburg said it would pull the “emergency brake” from Saturday after exceeding the 100-mark three days in a row. Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, also crossed the benchmark on Friday.

READ ALSO: Hamburg moves back into hard shutdown as third coronavirus wave gains momentum

“We are in the third wave of the pandemic, the numbers are rising, the percentage of virus mutations is high,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told the news conference.

Spahn, who this week faced growing calls to resign amid frustration with the government’s pandemic management, called on Germans to refrain from spring break travel to help curb infections.

The grim news came as Germany resumed administering AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 jabs after the European regulator EMA assessed it was “safe and effective” to use.

Spahn making a statement on Thursday about AstraZeneca’s use. Photo: DPA

‘Short, sharp’ restrictions

Amid a widely criticised sluggish vaccination campaign, Germany decided on Monday, along with most EU governments, to suspend use of the vaccine for the EMA to examine a handful of cases of cerebral vein thrombosis that emerged.

Doctors will now have to inform patients about the possible blood clotting risk before giving them the jabs.

Critics had complained that the decision to halt use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine over the last days only served to fuel mistrust over the jabs and further delay Germany’s inoculation programme.

By Thursday, only 3.8 percent of the German population was reported fully immunised.

Spahn said the resumption of the AstraZeneca vaccinations combined with expected new arrivals of jabs from other manufacturers in April should speed up the German campaign.

But he admitted that “an honest analysis of the situation shows that there aren’t enough vaccines in Europe to stop the third wave with vaccination alone”.

He said it would take several weeks before even those in the highest risk groups were fully inoculated and warned that the country should brace for an extension of current restrictions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with the country’s 16 state leaders on Monday to set new shutdown rules based on the latest pandemic developments.

Karl Lauterbach, a public health expert from the Social Democrats, junior partners in the government, said there was for now no alternative to keeping restaurants, most shops and entertainment venues closed.

“You can look at it any way you want, we have to go back to lockdown,” he said, calling for “short, sharp” restrictions.

“The sooner we react, the shorter the lockdown will need to be.”

READ ALSO: Germany to use AstraZeneca vaccine from Friday

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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.