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Covid-19 variant from India detected ‘only sporadically’ in Germany, says RKI

Health experts say the Covid-19 variant that originated in India does not appear to have spread widely in Germany so far.

Covid-19 variant from India detected 'only sporadically' in Germany, says RKI
A negative coronavirus rapid test in Dresden, Saxony. Photo: DPA

Acording to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), evidence of the Indian coronavirus variant B.1.617 in Germany remains relatively low.

So far, it has been discovered “only sporadically”, 22 times in a week in examined samples, according to an RKI report published on Wednesday evening. In the previous week, the institute said they had found it 21 times.

“We have isolated cases in Germany, we will release a new report tomorrow,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute infectious disease agency, told reporters when asked about the B.1.617 variant.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the variant had been detected in “at least 17 countries”.

German media said Cologne reported two cases with the variant. According to broadcaster WDR both of those affected had recently returned from India.

The variant was also discovered in two returning travellers in Baden-Württemberg.

India is experiencing a dramatic surge in Covid cases, with hundreds of thousands of infections being reported daily among its population of 1.38 billion people. Several countries, including Germany, are providing medical supplies and support.

Germany banned travel from India earlier this week, allowing only citizens and residents to enter.

READ ALSO: Germany restricts travel from ‘high risk’ India

‘No weakening’ of British variant

The RKI report states that the dominance of the particularly contagious variant B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK and has been fuelling the third wave Germany, remains the dominant strain in the Bundesrepublik.

The RKI said there is “no weakening” of the prevalence of this variant in Germany.

In the two other variants from South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1), which are also classified as worrying, the proportions remain consistently low in Germany, at one percent and less, data shows.

In Germany, however, only a fraction of the samples are examined for variants using so-called whole genome sequencing.

The Indian variant is under observation by the WHO.

Experts say it is too early to say whether the Indian variant, B.1.617, is responsible for the rapid increase in infections there.

The RKI says there is currently still a lack of knowledge on how dangerous the variant is.

Experts are particularly concerned with the question of whether variants cause increased transmission from one person to another, and if vaccines are effective against them. 

What are the latest numbers in Germany?

On Thursday the RKI logged 24,736 cases within the last 24 hours and 264 deaths. On Thursday a week ago, Germany recorded 29,518 new infections and 259 new deaths within a day.

The number of cases per 100,000 people in seven days fell to 154.9 on Thursday, which could be the sign of a downward trend. The day before, the RKI said the 7-day incidence was 160.6; a week ago it was 161.1.

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COVID-19

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.

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