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COVID-19 STATS

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

We know the Covid infection rate in Germany is rising - but how bad is it?

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

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.

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”.

READ ALSO: 

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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COVID-19

Germany’s weekly Covid infection rate rises above 500

Germany recorded a weekly Covid incidence of more than 500 per 100,000 people on Monday as health experts warn that the fifth wave of the pandemic has only just begun.

Bar in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, which has the highest incidence in the country.
People sit outside bars in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, where incidences are currently the highest in the country. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

On Monday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 528, up from 515 the day before and 376 a week ago. 

Infections have been rising rapidly as the highly transmissible Omicron variant tightens its hold in Germany. Monday marked the fourth day in a row in which the country posted record incidences.

Since the first incidence of the variant was discovered in the country around seven weeks ago, Omicron has swiftly taken over as the dominant variant in Germany.

It currently accounts for around 73 percent of Covid infections and is expected to almost entirely replace the Delta variant this week. 

Though Omicron generally causes a less severe illness than Delta, experts are concerned that deaths and hospitalisations could remain high due to the unprecedented number of cases Germany could see.

Unlike Delta, Omicron has a large number of mutations that allow it to evade previously built up immunity through vaccinations and illness. 

The World Health Organisation has warned that half of all Europeans could be infected with the virus by spring. 

“After the temporary decline in case numbers, severe disease courses and deaths towards the end of 2021 in the fourth wave, the fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has begun in Germany with the dominant circulation of the omicron variant,” the Robert Koch Institute wrote in its weekly report on Thursday.  

Since the first Omicron case was discovered in Germany, there have been 191,422 suspected or proven cases of the variant.

As Welt data journalist Olaf Gersemann pointed out in Twitter, the number of Omicron cases has increased sixfold within a fortnight. 

Increase in hospitalisations

Before this weekend, Germany had hit its previous peak of infections back in November, when the country posted a 7-day incidence of 485 per 100,000 people at during the peak of the fourth wave.

Since then, Covid measures such contact restrictions and blanket 2G (entry only for the vaccinated and recovered) or 2G-plus (vaccinated or recovered with a negative test) have been relatively effective at turning the tide. 

READ ALSO:

For the past few weeks however, infections have been on the up once again as the Omicron fifth wave begins.

The incidence of hospitalisations in the country appears to also be on the rise again after a few weeks of decline. On Friday, the 7-day incidence of hospitalisations stood at 3.24 per 100,000 people, up from 3.13 the day before.

Over the weekend, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned that Omicron could place additional pressure on the general hospital wards as fewer people end up in intensive care. 

“Depending on how things develop, we may face shortages not only in the intensive care units, but also in the normal wards. There is a threat of entire departments being closed,” he said.

“Rapid spread of the virus would mean hundreds of thousands will become seriously ill and we will have to mourn many thousands of deaths again.” 

Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a weekly press conference on Friday, January 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld
 

Northern states post record incidences

Since the start of the Omicron wave, northern Germany has been disproportionately affected by the virus.

As of Monday, the city-state of Bremen had the highest incidence in the country, with 1389 new cases per 100,000 people recorded in a week.

This was followed by Berlin, which currently has a 7-day incidence of 948, and Hamburg, which recorded a 7-day incidence of 806. The district with the highest incidence in Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, which posted a weekly incidence of 1597 on Monday. 

In contrast to the fourth wave, the lowest Covid incidences were recorded in the eastern states of Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. 

On Monday, Thuringia had a weekly incidence of 198 per 100,000 people, while Saxony’s incidence was 249 and Saxony-Anhalt’s was 280.

Somewhat inexplicably, the incidence has been declining in Thuringia in recent weeks, though there is speculation that this could be to do with the fact that Omicron has not yet spread in the state.

Nine of the sixteen German states have incidences of more than 500 per 100,000 people. 

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