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ANALYSIS

ANALYSIS: How do Germany’s Covid-19 numbers compare to other European countries?

Germany has seen a huge drop in the coronavirus incidence rate. But what is the situation elsewhere in Europe? Here's how the Bundesrepublik compares to three other countries with large populations - France, Italy and the UK.

ANALYSIS: How do Germany's Covid-19 numbers compare to other European countries?
A woman walking past a sign that says: 'Beer garden, finally!' In Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

The number of new Covid cases per 100,000 residents has been steadily falling in Germany since the end of April. And the number of patients in intensive care units has also dropped significantly, while coronavirus deaths have fallen slightly.

This positive development has allowed districts and cities across the country to begin easing Covid restrictions and reopening more of public life after a shutdown was put in place in November 2020. 

The Tagesspiegel newspaper analysed how Germany’s situation stacks up against a few other European countries to see how the country is doing, and with a view to possible summer travel. Here’s a look at what they found. 

READ ALSO: How did Germany get Covid cases down and will the trend continue?

Germany

Population: 83 million

7-day incidence: 37

Positive rate: 5.8 percent (May 26)

Intensive care patients: about 2,450

7-day mean deaths: 149

Vaccinated population: 43 percent (fully vaccinated: 17 percent).

Experts say there are several reasons why Germany has seen a drop in Covid cases since the end of April, such as measures being tightened, public behaviour changing, and better weather. 

But it is striking how different the 7-day incidence rates are across Europe, including between Germany and neighbouring countries.

The vaccination rates, on the other hand, are not hugely different – with one well-known exception: the UK is miles ahead on its jab campaign.

However, Britain is also currently struggling with outbreaks concerning the virus variant first discovered in India. The UK is one of the few countries in Europe where the 7-day incidence is currently rising, albeit only slightly.

As the incidence in Germany is steadily falling, the incidence rate could fall below that of the UK’s soon.

“We have the worst behind us and have reached the end of this difficult period,” said SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach over the weekend, regarding Germany’s situation.

However, it’s not just people in Germany who can (cautiously) get their hopes up for a good summer – it’s currently looking positive elsewhere.

The chart below by Our World in Data shows the Covid cases per million people to give an idea of the trends in four countries. 

France

Population: 67.1 million

7-day incidence: 95

Positive rate: 3.5 percent (May 24)

Intensive care patients: about 3,000

7-day mean deaths: 115

Vaccinated population: 37 percent (fully vaccinated: 16 percent)

France is one of only a few countries in Europe with a 7-day incidence close to 100. This is mainly due to the country having to recover from a much higher third coronavirus wave, the Tagesspiegel analysis said.  

While the number of new infections in Germany peaked at almost 30,000 at the end of April, in France more than 100,000 Covid infections were logged in mid-April – and keep in mind that Germany’s neighbor has around 16 million fewer inhabitants.

After the incidence hit 477 infections per 100,000 people in mid-April, it has been falling continuously since then and was 79 in the past week. After a brief increase to around 100, the incidence is now falling again.

French President Emmanuel Macron on May 28th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The number of positive tests – the so-called positive rate – was recently even lower than in Germany. This suggests that the decline in the number of infections is happening faster in France than in Germany. However, significantly more tests are carried out in France (an average of around 300,000 per day) than in Germany (an average of around 170,000 per day), which means that the rate is less subject to fluctuations.

READ ALSO: France opens Covid vaccines to everyone over 18

France and Germany are similar in terms of the number of deaths over the past seven days.

However, it could be that Germany sees a faster recovery because the number of coronavirus ICU patients is significantly higher in France at around 3,000.

In Germany there are now only 2,450 ICU patients, which is less than the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) predicted. In their recent model, they predicted around 2,500 intensive care patients in Germany in mid-June.

The fact that the situation in Germany is a little more relaxed than in France is also due to the different progress of the vaccination campaign. While roughly the same number of people already have full vaccination protection in both countries, Germany is ahead with 43 percent of first doses compared to about 37 percent in France.

Since the first jab provides some protection against severe courses of Covid-19, the number of ICU patients and deaths in Germany may fluctuate less in future.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid case rate falls below the threshold of 50 for first time since October

Italy

Population: 60.4 million

7-day incidence: 39

Positive rate: 1.8 percent (May 27)

Intensive care patients: 1643 (May 20)

7-day mean deaths: 117

Vaccinated residents: 38 percent (fully vaccinated: 19 percent)

Italy hit the third coronavirus wave peak in March – at an earlier stage than the likes of France and Germany. After rising to 269 cases per 100,000 people at the end of the month, the incidence has been falling continuously since then. Since the end of April, the decline in the number of infections in Italy and Germany has been around the same level. 

The 7-day incidence is now also at a comparable level. The situation is similar with ICU patients and deaths, each in relation to the population.

In Italy, on the other hand, the proportion of positive tests of the total number of tests is significantly lower. However, this is also due to the fact that, as in France, significantly more tests have recently been carried out in Italy (an average of around 230,000 per day).

The vaccination rate in Italy is comparable to that in France, but slightly below that in Germany. 

People dining in Rome at the end of April. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/LaPresse via ZUMA Press | Cecilia Fabiano

The UK

Population: 66.7 million

7-day incidence: 32

Positive rate: 0.3 percent (May 26)

ICU patients: 743 (May 28)

7-day mean deaths: 9

Vaccinated residents: 58 percent (fully vaccinated: 37 percent)

A sign in Bolton, England, urging people to get tested. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/XinHua

Britain is special in two ways. On one hand, the influence of the well-advanced inoculation campaign is reflected in the coronavirus numbers  – which is linked with independence as a result of Brexit (as the EU has tackled vaccination as a bloc rather than each country going alone). On the other hand, Britain has faced hurdles during the pandemic such as battling effects of new virus variants. 

The 7-day incidence is probably higher due to the variant that first originated in India. In early January, the UK had an incidence of 630 cases per 100,000 people. With a strict lockdown and a huge early push on the vaccination campaign, the rate quickly fell below 100 by the end of February.

When the third wave started in Germany, the numbers in the UK slowly but steadily decreased. The temporary lowest number was reached in mid-May at 20 cases per 100,000 people, a month after it had opened extensively.

READ ALSO: Germany’s emergency brake ‘set to expire’ as Covid cases fall

For the first time since the end of April, the number of new infections every day has risen to more than 3,000 in the past week, and even to more than 4,000 in a day. UK health experts say the slight growth could be the beginning of a new wave.

But, with all due caution, the other key figures continue to develop very well in Britain compared to the rest of Europe and also to Germany. While the incidence is at a similar level, the number of deaths – 9 on a weekly average – is very low. In Germany there are 149. The number of people in ICU wards is also low. 

Meanwhile, the British continue to do a lot of testing, with almost a million swabs a day. Only 0.3 percent of them were positive.

The main reason for the UK’s good development has to be the vaccination campaign. A huge 58 percent of the British population have now had at least one shot, while more than a third have already been fully vaccinated. 

German health expert Karl Lauterbach predicted weeks ago that the numbers in the UK would increase again slightly due to the variant. At the time, he said that in Britain it depends on whether the full vaccination rate can quickly rise to well over 60 percent – that is not the case yet.

“If the Indian variant spreads faster, the number of cases could rise again in some regions,” said Lauterbach.

READ ALSO:

So we’ll have to see how the UK’s push on vaccinating people in Covid hotspots, and mass testing, reacts with the variant outbreaks. It is hoped that the UK can avoid a large spread of new cases. 

Germany acted quickly to tighten restrictions on travel from India, and later the UK when the outbreaks were discovered. 

At the moment, the Indian variant only accounts for about two percent of all new Covid cases in Germany. But as more variants are emerging, countries, including Germany, will have to be on their guard and up the pace of vaccinations as much as possible.

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COVID-19

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. 

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