Heat wave brings thunderstorms, hail and heightened forest fire risk to Germany

With temperatures forecast to stay in the low to mid-thirties in much of Germany over the weekend, many people will take the chance to enjoy the sun in the great outdoors. But sudden storms are also forecast for parts of the country, while forest fires are a concern in the east.

Heat wave brings thunderstorms, hail and heightened forest fire risk to Germany
People in a dinghy on the Storkower See in Brandenburg on June 17th. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

An area of high pressure squatting over the east of Germany is set to bring continued high temperatures to Berlin and the eastern states on Saturday. 

The German Weather Service (DWD) has predicted that the highest temperatures in the country will hit the German capital and the surrounding regions, with the mercury rising to 37 degrees in Berlin.

Dresden will only be slightly cooler, sweating under highs of 35 Celsius.

Munich and the south will see slightly more pleasant temperatures with highs of 30 degrees on Saturday, while the northern coastal reasons will enjoy more mild temperatures in the mid to high twenties.

But the DWD has forecast sudden storms in the entire western half of the country on Friday that will gradually move eastwards over the weekend.

By Sunday there is an increased chance of violent localized storms across much of the country as Germany experiences yet another tropical night of humid, warm weather. When these storms hit they could bring hail and hurricane-force winds.

People who want to stay up-to-date can download the DWD weather warning app HERE.

Two die on Baltic coast

During the current heatwave two people have drowned in the Baltic Sea.

Off the island of Rügen, rescue workers pulled a lifeless 43-year-old man from the water on Thursday. Attempts to revive him proved unsuccessful. His brother had reported the man missing.

A 71-year-old woman also died near Greifswald. Her husband had pulled her out of the water after noticing that she was unconscious. Resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful and the woman died on the way to the hospital.

High forest fire risk

The DWD has cranked the forest fire risk level up to 5 – its highest level – for the northeast of the country. 

Brandenburg has a history of forest fires due to the fact that the states receives little rainwater in the summer and has dry, sandy earth. 

The state, known for its pine forests, has had to deal with more than 80 forest fires this year. That’s not a lot in comparison with past years – last year there had been over double that number by this point – but the risk is increasing with the rising temperatures and decreased rainfall.

In other states such as Bavaria, Saxony and Lower Saxony, the danger of forest fires is increasing with each passing day. In many areas the fire warning level currently stands at 4.

“The vast majority of forest fires are caused by negligent behaviour,” said Renke Coordes, spokesman for Saxony’s sate forests. He said that people should not smoke, barbecue or light campfires in these areas.

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Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?

A single vaccine dose has been shown to be largely ineffective against the Delta variant of Covid-19 - so German health experts are considering whether a shorter gap between the first and second dose is needed.

Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?
A sign directs people to the vaccination centre in Berlin's now-defunct Tegel Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Soeren Stache

With the the proportion of Delta variant Covid cases rising in Germany, experts are currently mulling over a new strategy to combat it: shortening the intervals between the first and second dose of the vaccine.

The new approach is being considered in light of the fact that vaccinated people are likely to be protected highly infectious variant – but only if they have had all necessary doses of the vaccine. 

READ ALSO: Share of Delta variant Covid cases in Germany almost doubles in a week

“The question is not a trivial one,” Thomas Mertens, the head of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO), told DPA.

According to the Ulm-based virologist, there are various pros and cons to shortening the gaps between doses.

“We are currently trying to secure the necessary evidence,” he added.

So far, Stiko has been recommending longer intervals between the two vaccinations than the intervals stipulated by regulators when the vaccines were approved. 

There are good reasons for this: with AstraZeneca, for example, evidence suggests that the longer you wait between vaccines, the better immunity you have.

With limited doses of vaccines available – and ongoing supply issues – there is also an argument for providing as many people as possible with the first dose, so that as many people as possible are at least partly protected against the virus.

READ ALSO: ‘Vaccinate quickly’: German states seeing surge in Delta variant Covid cases

For AstraZeneca, the previous advice from the panel of experts at Stiko is to allow twelve weeks to elapse between the first and second dose. For the mRNA vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – the recommended interval is six weeks.

According to the pharmaceutical regulators, however, a faster course would be possible: two BioNTech doses three weeks apart, with Moderna and AstraZeneca given four weeks apart.

In the case of the AstraZeneca vector vaccine, according to the Health Ministry, those wishing to be vaccinated are free to agree the interval individually with doctors within the permitted period of four to twelve weeks.

“A certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccine”

Helge Braun (CDU), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, told the Morgenmagazin on Thursday that the government’s main challenge was to offer all over-12s at the least one dose of the vaccine by the end of summer.

READ ALSO: ‘This can be a good summer’: Half of Germans vaccinated at least once against Covid

Regarding the timing of the second dose, the main concern should be effectiveness, he said.

“We just know that a certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccination,” he told reporters. 

When pressed on whether shortening the intervals between doses was the advice of the hour, Braun said it wasn’t.

On Twitter, German immunologist Carsten Watzl pointed out that, while cases of Delta were rising as a proportion of infections due to falling infection rates overall, the actual number of infections with Delta was still stable – and may even be declining. 

This means that the longer, 12-week interval for AstraZeneca vaccinations could be still be used as long as people were fully vaccinated by autumn, he said. 

The virologist Christian Drosten has been pointing out for a long time that the first jab is not particularly effective against Delta. 

This is also the view of Watzl, who would like to see the majority of people fully protected in time for a potential fourth wave of the virus. 

“The second vaccination is urgently needed in order to be able to properly ward off the mutations,” he said in a recent interview with the German Press Agency.

“Shortening the current vaccination intervals, especially of BioNTech, of course makes sense in order to achieve complete inoculation as quickly as possible,” said the chief executive of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, on Wednesday.

“The maximum vaccine interval for BioNTech is only justified by the lack of vaccines.”

In Germany, increased shares of the Delta variant, first discovered in India, are now being recorded.

However, the number of cases caused by the mutation has only increased relatively slightly so far, while the trend for infections caused by the still dominant Alpha variant is declining more sharply.

In the future, it is expected that Delta will overtake Alpha as the dominant variant of Covid-19 in Germany.