IN NUMBERS: How the fourth Covid wave in Germany is developing

IN NUMBERS: How the fourth Covid wave in Germany is developing
People enjoying the summer weather recently in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene
We know the Covid infection rate in Germany is rising - but how bad is it?

Germany’s 7-day incidence of Covid infections has been increasingly steadily since the first week of July, leading experts to say the fourth Covid wave is already here. 

And although the numbers remain fairly low at the moment, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control said on Thursday that the incidence is rising earlier and quicker than in summer 2020 “despite rising vaccination rates”.

How many infections are there – and why are they going up?

The rising rates – which is a trend that’s been seen in several countries across the world including the UK and the US – are being fuelled by the more transmissible Delta variant of Covid.

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The Delta variant as the dominant strain, combined with people having more contacts with others since public life opened up, is pushing up transmission. 

On Friday 3,448 Covid cases were registered within 24 hours and 24 deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 20.4 cases per 100,000 people – a major increase from the record low of 4.9 cases per 100,000 on July 4th. 

Experts say the increase means that authorities are already struggling to track and trace infections.

“Health departments are unable to track all chains of infection,” said the RKI in its latest weekly report.

READ ALSO: Is Germany facing a fourth Covid wave fuelled by Delta?

The Our World in Data chart below shows the number of Covid cases per million people in Germany compared to some other countries to give an idea of trends.

Are vaccinations having an impact?

Yes! According to the RKI, the majority of Covid cases recorded since February were among non-vaccinated people.

The RKI estimates vaccine effectiveness at around 88 percent for people between 18 and 59 years of age and at around 87 per cent for the group over 60.

“According to current knowledge, all vaccines currently available in Germany effectively protect against disease caused by the two main circulating VOCs (variants of concern), Delta and Alpha, when fully vaccinated,” said the RKI. Experts said data shows after receiving only one of two vaccine doses, the protective effect against Delta is “slightly reduced compared to Alpha”.

Experts have urged people to get themselves fully vaccinated as soon as possible. 

The RKI said it is “strongly recommended to take advantage of the offers for vaccination against Covid-19 now”.

The latest data shows 54.1 percent of people in Germany are fully vaccinated, and 62.2 percent have had at least one dose. But the number of people getting the jab has decreased of late. 

Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter on Friday that the vaccination coverage is still not enough “to get through autumn and winter well protected”.


Who’s most affected by the current wave?

Experts are warning everyone to still take safety precautions, such as wearing masks in shops and on public transport, keeping a safe distance and ventilating rooms.

But this current wave is particularly affecting younger people, many of whom are unvaccinated. 

“The current increase in incidence is mainly observed in the age groups 10-34 years, although this trend is now also emerging in the age groups up to 49,” said the RKI in its report.

The data refers to the period from July 5th to August 1st. The RKI records the highest number of infections (49 per 100,000 inhabitants within one week) in 20 to 24 year-olds.

Single-digit figures are given for people aged 55 and older, but slight increases are also seen in some of these groups, highlighting the importance of sticking to basic Covid restrictions.

READ ALSO: Why vaccinated people in Germany are still getting Covid

What’s happening in hospitals?

According to the report, the figures for hospital patients and treatment in intensive care units remain at a “low level”. Most people who are getting Covid are younger – and they have a lower risk of severe disease progression than the very old.

According to the RKI, in the past four reporting weeks, there’s difference between the Alpha and Delta variants in terms of the proportion of patients hospitalised.

READ ALSO: Germany considers tougher rules for the unvaccinated in autumn – but ‘drastic lockdown unlikely’

On August 5th, Germany’s intensive care register (DIVI) reported 387 Covid-19 patients in hospitals across Germany, with 206 of those (53 percent) receiving ventilation treatment. 

Around July 23rd, there were 357 Covid-19 patients in hospitals, with 207 receiving ventilation treatment.

During peaks of the pandemic – such as October last year and January this year – more than 5,000 Covid patients were hospitalised in Germany. 

What’s going on with variants?

The Delta variant, which is seen as cause for concern, has basically displaced other variants in Germany.

In a sample selected for genetic analyses, Delta, which originated in India, was found in 97 percent of cases, the RKI says. Almost all other detections are accounted for by the previously dominant mutant Alpha (B.1.1.7).

The the so-called Lambda variant, which was first discovered in Peru, remains insignificant in Germany – despite having reportedly reached European soil in early July.

READ ALSO: Germany’s infection rate rises slightly as new Covid variant reaches Europe

Is travel having an impact on rising infection rates?

It’s a bit tricky to see the full picture because in 42 percent (17,754) of the 42,431 infections detected in the four weeks leading to August 1st, no information was available on the probable origin country of infection. 

However, experts say they do have concerns about international travel. From July 5th to August 1st around 5,049 people (representing around 12 percent of all cases registered) were reported to have probable exposure abroad.

“The proportion of cases with a probable exposure abroad has not risen further compared to the previous week.” said the RKI in its report.

Spain is named as the travel destination with the most suspected infections from abroad, well ahead of Turkey and Croatia.

Experts do point out, though, that the majority of cases happen domestically in Germany – a reminder to take some precautions wherever you are. 

TRAVEL: Thousands of holidaymakers bringing Covid back to Germany

What about positive tests?

Throughout the summer, the number of laboratory tests (PCR) carried out per week has been considerably lower than in spring.

Yet the RKI has been seeing an increasing proportion of positive tests again for four weeks. But at three percent, the positive rate is still comparatively low.

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