The number of new Covid infections is not decreasing fast enough in view of the high burden on intensive care units, and the upcoming Omicron wave, said the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in its latest weekly report.
Confirmed new Covid infections in Germany fell by 13 percent between December 6th and 12th compared to the previous week, experts said.
The proportion of positive samples has also not increased further and is now at 19.8 percent (previous week: 20.6 percent).
“Despite this development, very high case numbers are still recorded overall and the burden on intensive care units due to the large number of seriously ill Covid-19 patients remains high,” said the RKI.
There are believed to be hundreds of Covid cases involving the Omicron strain in circulation in Germany.
By December 14th, 112 cases of the “variant of concern” had been detected by genome sequencing. A further 213 cases were suspected on the basis of a PCR test. The RKI said the first outbreaks have also been found in community settings.
At the moment most infections in Germany are still attributed to the Delta variant.
But it is only “a matter of time before Omicron takes over”, said RKI head Lothar Wieler at a joint press conference with Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Thursday.
“The current development continues to be very worrying, the number of severe illnesses and deaths will continue to increase,” said the RKI in its report.
Virtual Christmas parties
Experts from the institute said more “contact restricting measures” and “a rapid further increase in vaccination rates is urgently required in order to slow down the expected spread of the Omicron variant”.
The RKI urged people in Germany to help limit the spread by cutting down on contact, avoiding travel, isolating and contacting a doctor for a Covid test if they have symptoms (such as a cold or cough), airing out indoor rooms regularly and wearing masks.
“In principle, all unnecessary contacts should be reduced and travel avoided,” said the RKI, adding that the institute “strongly advises to cancel, avoid or hold larger indoor events, such as Christmas parties, virtually”.
The RKI also recommended checking the Corona Warning app regularly. People should be fully vaccinated and tested when coming into contact with at-risk people, the RKI advised.
When can Germany expect the Omicron wave to hit?
If the rate of spread of Omicron in Germany matches that in other countries, an increase in the number of cases is possible by the end of the year, epidemiologist Berit Lange of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research told broadcaster ARD.
“If it also progresses with a spread rate of two to four days in our country then it is of course possible that we will already have daily case numbers of several thousand to several tens of thousands due to Omicron by the end of the year, beginning of January,” he said.
The chart below by Our World in Data shows the development of Covid cases per million people in Germany compared to Denmark and the UK, which are both seeing a rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
The spread of Omicron in Germany depends on people’s behaviour and any extra measures ordered by governments.
According to current research, vaccinated people – especially those without their booster – are also more likely to pick up and spread Omicron compared to previous variants like Delta, Lange said.
“This means that contact restrictions may also become necessary for vaccinated people,” he said.