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How did this Bavarian Covid hotspot get infections down to zero?

Once a well-known Covid-hotspot, the district of Tirschenreuth in Bavaria is now reporting no new cases. What happened?

How did this Bavarian Covid hotspot get infections down to zero?
Prost! A Tirschenreuth resident enjoying a beer in May. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Armin Weigel

It wasn’t so long ago that the number of Covid-19 infections in seven days per 100,000 residents in Tirschenreuth stood at 355. But now it has become an infection-free zone. 

The district on the Bavarian-Czech border, which is home to around 72,500 people, has the lowest 7-day incidence in all of Germany. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the incidence in Tirschenreuth was 0.0 on Thursday.

As recently as February, the incidence in the district, which lies on the German border with the Czech Republic, had been 355 – the highest number nationwide. Despite lockdowns and extra vaccine supplies being diverted to the area, the number of cases refused to budge for a long time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s infection rate drops further as some areas achieve ‘zero-Covid’

And in April of last year during the first Covid wave, the incidence climbed as high as 571. 

However, Tirschenreuth has turned a corner. There hasn’t been a single new Covid infection in the district since June 2nd. And, understandably, the region is delighted. 

“It is with great pleasure that I can announce today a 7-day incidence of 0.00 for the district of Tirschenreuth,” said district administrator Roland Grillmeier, of the CSU.

Grillmeier is cautious about the reasons for the drop in infections, reported German newspaper the Tagesspiegel on Thursday. 

“We have earned this success,” he said. “Through testing and vaccinating we have worked our way out of the crisis.”

Authorities say another reason for the low numbers is because so many people have already contracted the virus. That means immunity in the region has likely increased. 

Police controlling the border between Tirschenreuth and the Czech Republic in February 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Despite the ‘zero Covid’ status, face masks still have to be worn in some public places and rapid tests are needed for activities such as going to the hairdresser.

And there are no special relaxations planned because of the low numbers.

Grillmeier appealed to residents to remain cautious because the outlook can change again quickly. For example he is concerned about the spread of the Delta variant, first detected in India. “We’ve seen ups and downs here and we need to be vigilant. The Corona rules continue to apply.”

Bavaria’s Weiden also achieves extremely low infection rate

The drop in incidence in Tirschenreuth also parallels the marked improvement in the coronavirus situation in nearby Weiden. Two weeks ago, the 7-day incidence in the Upper Palatinate city was pushed down to 2.3 – there was only one coronavirus case among more than 42,000 inhabitants.

“I think this is mainly due to the fact that we were the first to be affected by the second wave in October,” said Weiden Mayor Lothar Höher in an interview with Tagesspiegel. “That was also because we have many workers from the Czech Republic.”

In the Czech Republic, the coronavirus situation was particularly critical in Europe. On some occasions the incidence exceeded 800. Weiden is only about 30 kilometers from the Czech border.

READ ALSO: Germany imposes controls on Czech and Austrian borders

Mayor Höher attributes the encouraging local situation to the fact that, firstly, Weiden is home to many people who have already had Covid – and they are likely to have built immunity. A second reason is that the town has received extra vaccine doses from the EU and Bavaria aimed at tackling Covid hotspots in border regions.

In February, the mayor of Tirschenreuth, Franz Stahl, had criticised a lack of action by politicians to implement regular testing at borders, and getting vaccinations to people quickly. 

“Partly we are already left alone,” he said at the time in an interview with Tagesspiegel.  “Particularly in the border regions, where the incidences have been high for weeks – we need more vaccine.”

“We should have started much earlier with rapid tests at the borders.”

Good development across Germany

Covid numbers have been falling in Germany in recent weeks.

And the incidence in Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has also dropped to 0.0. No new coronavirus infections have been registered in the city within the last seven days.

Two districts in Lower Saxony – Goslar and Friesland – recently reached the the much-coveted ‘zero-Covid’ status. Goslar now has an incidence of just 1.5 and Friesland’s incidence is 2. 

In general, northern Germany is doing very well – in the state of Meck-Pomm, the incidence is 5.3, while Baden-Württemberg has a much higher rate with 25.9. Meanwhile, the city of Zweibrücken in Rhineland-Palatinate has the highest incidence in Germany when it comes to districts and cities, with 72.1.

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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.