‘Summer will be good’: Has Germany broken the Covid third wave?

The number of reported Covid-19 cases in Germany is continuing to decline, signalling that the country has managed to break the third wave - but ICU wards are still under pressure.

'Summer will be good': Has Germany broken the Covid third wave?
People walking among cherry blossom trees in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

So things are looking good. Is this true?

There have been encouraging signs in the coronavirus situation in Germany. The number of new infections has been falling for around a week.

At the weekend SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach predicted that the weekly number of cases would drop significantly by the end of May.

“The summer will be good,” he said in an interview with broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). However, he also called for people to remain cautious.

Lauterbach said Germany has stopped the third wave “but hasn’t defeated it yet”.

“I assume that the number of cases will drop significantly from mid/end of May,” he said. “Then we can say we have defeated the third wave.”

He said Germany had a good combination of measures in place.

“With the emergency brake, we have prevented reopening too early; by testing in schools in combination with alternating lessons (online and in-person), we have a way of preventing the worst chains of infection from breaking out there. ”

Lauterbach added that vaccinations were helping the situation but there was still a long way to go on that front.

But he added: “We are now on the last lap on the final straight.”

READ ALSO: ‘No all clear’: What Germany’s falling Covid numbers say about the third wave

How many people are getting Covid-19 at the moment?

On Sunday May 2nd the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 16,290 new cases, which was significantly lower than a week earlier when there were 19,000 cases.

On Monday May 3rd the RKI reported 9,160 new infections and 84 deaths. A week ago, there were 11,907 daily coronavirus infections and 60 deaths.

The number of cases is usually lower on Mondays due to fewer tests being carried out at the weekend.

The weekly average of new cases also fell by around 1.8 percent compared to the previous week. The 7-day average of active cases fell by 13 percent compared to the previous week.

Summing up the latest findings, high profile German journalist Olaf Gersemann said in a tweet: “The third wave is not over but it is apparently broken.”

According to the RKI, the number of new infections reported within seven days per 100,000 residents was 146.9 nationwide on Monday morning. The day before, the RKI said this incidence was 146.5. On Monday a week ago, however, the incidence was significantly higher, at 169.3.

Germany is aiming to get this incidence under 50 which would see politicians allow more facilities to open up.

There’s good news on the infection dynamics too: the nationwide 7-day reproductive number was 0.92 according to the RKI situation report on Sunday. This means that 100 infected people go on to infect 92 more people on average.

The R number represents the occurrence of the infection eight to 16 days ago. If it is below 1 for a longer period of time, the infection process subsides; if it is consistently higher, the number of cases increases.

What’s the situation in hospitals?

Currently around 5,022 people are still in intensive care in Germany after contracting Covid-19, with 2,950 people receiving ventilation.

This is still a very high figure and medical workers say they are facing major pressure, as younger age groups become ill.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The president of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) believes the recent fall in the number of new infections will soon also be reflected in intensive care units.

“In the intensive care units we will be able to see this declining infection rate in a week, we are convinced of that,” Gernot Marx told the Rheinische Post on Monday.

In his opinion, the positive development is directly related to the ’emergency brake’ tougher measures being brought in by the federal government. They include curfews, stronger contact rules and school closures in areas with high Covid rates.

READ MORE: Vaccine effect – Covid-19 hospital admission rate falls in Germany 

Marx also said the clear progress made in vaccinations in Germany is having an impact. 

But staff in ICU are still working incredibly hard.

“All people who work on the wards continue to be challenged to the maximum,” said Marx.

When will restaurants, gyms, bars – and everything else – open again?

This we don’t know. But if infections continue to go down, public life will reopen. And there is pressure on politicians.

In view of the declining numbers, the Association of Cities and Municipalities has demanded a long-term opening plan from the federal government.

Germany has had restrictions in place since November 2020 – that’s six months – and the rules have got tougher in many places in recent weeks due to increasing Covid cases.

The association’s chief Gerd Landsberg said long-term planning had been neglected by politicians.

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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.