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COVID-19

Covid infections rise in Germany as Omicron spreads

The 7-day incidence has hit more than 300 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people in Germany as the highly transmissible Omicron continues to spread.

Kiel city centre
Crowds of people walk along the pedestrianised streets in Kiel. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

On Friday, the weekly incidence of new Covid cases jumped to 303 per 100,000 people – the highest level seen since before Christmas.

Covid infections had been dropping throughout December after state governments introduced tough curbs on unvaccinated people, but with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, the figures have once again started to rise.

The 7-day incidence of Covid infections has jumped significantly from 215 per 100,000 people a week ago, and 286 on Thursday.

Daily infection numbers continue to be high, with 56,335 new infections recorded within 24 hours. Friday was the third day in a row that more than 50,000 new infections were recorded daily. 

Health authorities also reported 264 Covid-related deaths within a day on Friday, with the incidence of Covid hospitalisations per 100,000 people rising from 3.20 to 3.26.  

Even though the numbers have been increasing day by day, the RKI said that the number of new infections is underestimated due to less testing and underreporting of numbers during the holidays.

Omicron nearly dominant

After being discovered in South Africa in late November, the super-infectious Omicron variant has almost replaced Delta as the dominant variant in Germany. 

In its last weekly report, the RKI said Omicron had accounted for around 45 percent of all positive Covid cases in the previous week, while the share of Delta was continually decreasing. 

As of Friday, laboratories had reported around 62,974 confirmed or suspected cases of Omicron in Germany – compared to around half this number (32,198) when the RKI produced its report on Thursday. 

“In the coming weeks, a strong increase in infections with the variant of concern Omicron, which is also more easily transmissible in vaccinated and recovered persons, is expected,” the RKI warned in their report.

However, there are strong regional differences in the prevalence of the variant, with the majority of cases being recorded in the northern states of Germany.

While the share of Omicron is 85.5 percent in Bremen, it has only been detected in 3.2 percent of cases in Saxony-Anhalt. Schleswig-Holstein was the first German state to see Omicron take over from Delta as the dominant variant. 

READ ALSO: What effect is the Omicron wave having on German hospitals?

Covid risk ‘very high’ 

Due to the rapid spread of Omicron in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) currently classifies the risk to public health as “very high”. 

However, certain groups are deemed more at risk than others, the public health authority said. 

“The risk of infection is assessed as very high for the group of unvaccinated people, high for the groups of recovered people and vaccinated persons with basic immunisation (two vaccinations) and moderate for the group of vaccinated persons with booster vaccination,” the RKI wrote in its report. 

Though measures such as vaccinated-only entry for public venues had driven infections down before Christmas, intensive care wards are still overburdened with Covid patients, the RKI explained.

As of January 5th, 3,561 people with a Covid diagnosis were being treated in an intensive care unit, with just under 3,000 of these receiving respiratory support. 

Federal and state leaders are meeting on Friday to discuss potential measures to tackle a potential Omicron wave, including shortening quarantine to prevent staff shortages in key industries and introducing compulsory ‘2G plus’ (entry for vaccinated people with a negative test) in restaurants and bars.

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COVID-19 TESTS

Germany to charge €3 for rapid Covid tests

Germany is set to end free rapid Covid tests for all from July. In future they will cost €3.

Germany to charge €3 for rapid Covid tests

Vulnerable groups, however, will still be able to get the tests, known as Bürgertests, free of charge under the plans.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said: “I will make no secret of the fact that I would have liked to have continued the free citizenship tests for all.”

However, Lauterbach said the taxpayer-funded testing strategy is costing an average of a billion euros per month.

“The truth is – unfortunately, we can’t afford that in the tight budget situation that awaits us in autumn,” he said. 

€3 contribution from July

The new testing regulations are to apply from the start of July.

The concept foresees expenditures of €2.7 billion by the end of the year. If the government had continued to offer free tests for all, the costs would have been around €5 billion.

The federal government also plans to reduce the amount that is given to the test centres per test – from the current €11.50 to €9.50.

In future, free rapid tests will continue to be available for vulnerable groups, including children up to five years of age, women at the beginning of pregnancy, and visitors to clinics and nursing homes.

The states will have the option of taking over the co-payment of €3 for other groups as well.

Lauterbach had previously spoken out in favour of continuing to provide free Covid tests for people with symptoms who suspect they have Covid, as well as before large events. 

READ ALSO: Germany to scrap free Covid tests for all 

Bürgertests should in future continue to be used specifically where they bring the greatest benefit,” said Lauterbach after the health ministers’ conference.

Lauterbach said he negotiated with Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner to come up with the new testing system. 

“The use of taxpayers’ money will become more effective, as not everything can be paid by the federal government in the long run, because our possibilities have reached their limits,” said Lindner. 

Autumn Covid wave

Lauterbach also warned of a severe Covid wave in autumn.

“A very difficult time lies ahead,” the Health Minister said. He said the health ministers across Germany would take a joint approach to tackling the pandemic.

READ ALSO: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan 

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