How worried should Germany be about the Covid variant from India?

Covid variants, particularly the one that originated in the UK, have wreaked havoc in Germany in recent months. How worried should the country be about the Indian virus variant?

How worried should Germany be about the Covid variant from India?
A coronavirus testing centre in Norderney, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

Is the Indian variant spreading in Germany?

Due to the emergency Covid situation in India – along with the discovery of a new variant which has been classified as a cause for concern – many countries around the world have been watching their own cases closely to check if it’s spreading.

In Germany, the latest report from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) published on Wednesday evening shows that the B.1.617 strain from India is being “increasingly detected” in the country, but the share of it among samples of new cases tested remains relatively low.

In the report the RKI put the share of the variant at two percent of new cases for the week from May 3rd to 9th. The week before, it was 1.5 percent.

The country has been taking swift action to try and catch any possible outbreaks. First, Germany put in place a general ban on travel from India on April 24th.

Earlier this week, nearly 200 people in two housing blocks were ordered into quarantine in a city near Dortmund in North Rhine-Westphalia over fears of an outbreak linked to the variant.

READ ALSO: Indian virus variant ‘steadily increasing’ in Germany

The Indian variant was recently classified as a concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). But 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. 

According to WHO data, B.1.617 has now been detected in more than 40 countries.

What about other variants?

There have been slight shifts in the spread of other coronavirus variants classified as worrying in Germany.

The share of the South African variant B.1.351 increased from one to three percent, according to the report, after a long period of inconspicuous development.

Meanwhile, the dominance of the variant B.1.1.7, first discovered in Britain, in Germany has weakened slightly to a share of 87 percent of the samples examined. At times this more contagious mutant made up more than 90 percent of cases in Germany.

The British variant was behind Germany’s huge winter spike in infections – so there is a real fear that variants will fuel another Covid wave.

In its weekly report, the RKI looks in particular at four variants considered to be of concern. In addition to those from India, South Africa and Britain, these also include the mutant P.1, which is circulating in Brazil (share in Germany: 0.3 percent).

According to the report, there are also several other variants that have so far been under observation as so-called “variants of interest”. Experts are focusing on mutations that are associated with increased transmission and/or an altered immune response.

Why is Germany looking across to the UK?

Germany is watching the UK closely due to outbreaks of the Indian virus variant.

The share of the Indian variant in Germany is lower than in the UK, where it is currently found in about six percent of the samples tested, said the the RKI.

The mutant from India has several sub-variants. In Britain, the B.1.617.2 strain is in focus as a cause for concern. By Wednesday, 2,967 confirmed cases were known in the country – around 1,600 more than a week earlier.

A Covid support officer assisting residents at a mobile vaccination centre in Bolton, England, on May 18th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PA Wire | Danny Lawson

In Germany, where only a fraction of positive samples are tested for variants, the sub-variant was found 37 times in a random sample in the week from May 3rd to 9th.

Since mid-April, however, the RKI has seen a sharp increase in the number of cases. This sub-variant requires “special attention”, it said.

In the UK, several towns in central England are particularly affected, as well as the west London borough of Hounslow and the Scottish city of Glasgow. However, there are also signs that vaccinations against the variant are likely to be effective: for example, the majority of people seriously ill with the virus variant have not had their Covid jabs.

The UK scientific advisory body Sage wrote in a recent report that it was “realistic” that the variant could be up to 50 percent more contagious than variant B.1.1.7, which is already considered highly contagious. British modellers therefore fear the worst-case scenario would be another wave of infections similar to the winter spike.

Gabriel Scally, a public health expert, told broadcaster Sky News that everything must be done to reduce new infections. For example, young people should be vaccinated as soon as possible and more support should be given to people in quarantine.

“We also need to stop importation and that means we need better border controls,” Scally said. Some of the cases of the variant that have occurred in Britain so far have been traced to people entering the country from India. The country has been on the “red list” since the end of April, meaning anyone arriving in the UK from India has to pay for mandatory hotel quarantine.

The German government re-classified Britain as a coronavirus ‘risk’ area despite low infection figures.

“The classification is due, despite (a low incidence rate), to the at least a limited occurrence of the B.1.617.2 variant in the United Kingdom,” the RKI said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new relaxed quarantine and testing rules after travel

What’s the current situation in Germany?

On Thursday, Germany reported 12,298 new coronavirus infections within 24 hours, and 237 deaths. A week ago there were 17,419 Covid-19 infections reported.

The RKI said the number of cases per 100,000 residents within seven days (7-day incidence) stood at 68 (previous day: 72.8; previous week: 103.6).

However, the incidence could paint a better picture of the infection situation than it actually is. Due to public holidays and bridge days recently, it’s likely that fewer people have been tested and there could be delays in test results.

According to the laboratory association ALM, the number of laboratory tests fell significantly compared to the previous weeks: From May 10th to 16th, around 933,000 PCR tests were recorded, around 160,000 fewer than the week before, it said on Tuesday.

Overall, however, Germany has seen a major decrease in Covid-19 cases since April.


Member comments

  1. The Covid variant is NOT “from India” and was originally found in India. Its the same as Trump saying “China virus”.

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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.