Covid-19 variants comprise ‘almost 90 percent of new cases in Germany’

First discovered in the UK, the highly contagious coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 is spreading rapidly in Germany, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Covid-19 variants comprise 'almost 90 percent of new cases in Germany'
A woman receives a coronavirus test at a testing centre in Norddeich, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

The variant has now reached 88 percent of all reported cases, the RKI said on Wednesday evening, citing laboratory tests conducted last week between March 22nd and 28th. That’s up from three-quarters of new cases of March 18th.

The spread of the variant is worrying, the RKI said in its latest situation report, because “according to current knowledge, it is significantly more contagious and probably causes more severe courses of disease than other variants”.

Further increases in Covid-19 cases in hospitals are therefore to be expected, reported the RKI.

On Thursday, the RKI reported 24,300 new Covid-19 infections within 24 hours, as well as 201 deaths from or with the virus. 

Exactly a week ago, the RKI had recorded 22,657 new infections and 228 new deaths within one day.

According to the institute, the number of new infections reported within seven days per 100,000 inhabitants nationwide was 134.2 on Thursday morning – slightly above the level of the previous day (132.3).

This graph (credit: DPA) shows where in Germany has the highest seven-day incidence of Covid-19 cases.

Can vaccines protect against the variant?

All vaccines available in Germany provide very good protection against illness caused by B.1.1.7 and also against severe illness caused by two other variants, according to the RKI.

READ ALSO: German biotech firm boss ‘confident’ vaccine is effective against new Covid-variant

On Thursday, however, Germany’s BioNTech/Pfizer also said their Covid-19 vaccine was highly effective against the South African variant B.1.351 in the latest phase of ongoing clinical trials.

B.1.351 is not widespread in Germany, however: it was detected in 0.8 percent of the positive samples tested for it in Germany, and the variant P.1, which circulates strongly in Brazil, was detected in only 0.1 percent. 

The increase in new infections overall and that caused by the highly contagious variant B 1.1.7. will lead to a “significant increase” in the number of Covid-19 patients seen in clinics, according to the RKI.

Are more cases related to more testing?

According to RKI findings, the rising number of reported new coronavirus infections is not attributable to an increasing number of rapid tests being rolled out.

Between March 8th and 14th, when weekly free rapid tests were introduced in Germany, 4.4 percent of laboratory-confirmed PCR tests were positive, according to RKI data. These were often taken following a positive test result from a rapid test.

READ ALSO: ‘Schnell’ vs. ‘Selbst’: The key differences between Germany’s new Covid-19 tests

This proportion climbed slightly to 5.5 percent (March 15th-21st) and most recently to six percent (March 22nd-28th). 

The RKI has logged a total of 2,833,173 confirmed coronavirus infections in Germany since the pandemic began. The actual total number is likely to be significantly higher, as many infections are not detected. 

It has also recorded a total of 76,589 deaths from or with the virus.

Member comments

  1. The longer a virus circulates, the greater the chances of a mutation. The German government has one single thing to get right to mitigate this risk; vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate, yet this appears to be beyond them. How long before other countries shut their borders to Germans because of “the German variant?”

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.