Germany at ‘start of fourth wave’ – but Covid infections are slowing

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has warned that Germany is at the start of its fourth wave - and is arguing that preventing high Covid numbers should be a priority.

Germany at 'start of fourth wave' - but Covid infections are slowing
A sign directs people into the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin for free Covid tests. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

A report by the RKI obtained by German daily Bild said that the country’s fourth Covid wave “has already begun”.

In the report, RKI chief Lother Wieler is said to have defended the use of the ‘7-day incidence’ as a bellweather for Covid infections, arguing that “prevention” of infections should be the government’s highest priority.

The 7-day incidence refers to the number of people infected per 100,000 people over the course of a week.

At this stage in the pandemic, it has largely replaced new Covid cases as a measure of a country’s infection rates, since the incidence makes it easier to see trends in the spread of the virus over time.

In recent weeks, however, politicians and health experts have been debating whether the 7-day incidence could lose some of its meaning in light of increasing vaccination rates in the country, meaning fewer people need to be hospitalised when contracting Covid. 

READ ALSO: ‘Milestone’: More than half of German population fully vaccinated

But Wieler reportedly argued that the 7-day incidence should still be used by politicians to decide whether preventative measures, such as widespread tests, are needed to stop infections getting out of control.

“An increasing 7-day incidence precedes this development; it is and remains the earliest of all indicators,” Wieler allegedly wrote in the report. “The 7-day incidence therefore remains important in order to assess the situation in Germany and to initiate control measures at an early stage.”

The health expert also argued in the paper that “high vaccination coverage alone is not enough to flatten infection rates”, suggesting that some anti-Covid measures could need to remain in place in the colder months, when infections tend to be higher.

Hospitalisations or incidences?

According to Bild, leaders in Germany’s 16 states are currently inclined to make decisions on Covid measures based on factors connected to the consequences of high infection rates, such as hospitalisations and deaths, rather than just the incidence. 

They do want to keep the ‘7-day incidence’ as a kind of early warning system for Covid, but might allow infections to rise if few people are becoming seriously ill.

Robert Koch Institute chairman Lothar Wieler believes that, when it comes to Covid, prevention is better than cure. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-pool | Michael Kappeler

Currently, the vast majority of infections are among the less vulnerable under-60 age group, meaning that hospitalisations and deaths have generally remained at a constant level.

Angela Merkel will hold a coronavirus summit with the state premiers of the Bundesländer (states) on August 10th, in which they are expected to make key decisions on the country’s direction of travel.

7-day incidence at 15, but rising more slowly

Since its latest low of 4.9 on July 6th, Germany’s 7-day incidence has been rapidly rising. In just over three weeks, this figure has trippled, with the country reporting an incidence of 15 on Wednesday.

In her last parliamentary questions before summer – and potentially her last before retirement – Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the population to get vaccinated in light of an ‘exponential’ rise in infections.

READ ALSO: Merkel urges Germans to get vaccinated amid ‘exponential growth’ of Covid infections

However, Covid’s rate of reproduction (otherwise known as the R rate) has quietly been falling in recent days, and currently stands at 1.05.

That means that, for every 100 people infected with Covid-19, 105 more people will become infected.

On Monday, the R value was 1.10, while in the previous week, it was 1.19.

An R value of above 1.0 means infection rates are on the rise, while an R value of below 1.0 means infection rates are falling.

Experts will be watching closely to see if the declining R rate continues, and whether it could drop below 1.0 once again in the coming days.

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Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.