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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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.