German public health authority warns of Omicron subtype risk

DPA/The Local
DPA/The Local - [email protected]
German public health authority warns of Omicron subtype risk
A laboratory worker in Hamlin, Lower Saxony, works with Covid-19 testing samples. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

As Germany plans its phased reopening of public life, the Robert Koch Insitute (RKI) has warned that a resurgence of infections - partly due to a subtype of Omicron - cannot be ruled out.


Writing in its weekly report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that the wave appeared to have peaked but noted that infection rates remained high in the population. 

The proportion of positive tests remained high, it said, with around one in two tests confirming an infection last week. The RKI also estimates that around 1.4 to 2.3 million people in Germany fell ill with acute respiratory symptoms caused by Covid-19 last week, resulting in around 380,000 Covid-related visits to doctors.

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As analyses of virus variants show, a worrying subtype of Omicron known as BA.2 is spreading continuously in Germany. According to the latest available data for the week ending February 13th, the BA.2 accounted for just under 24 percent of positive samples, according to the report. In the preceding weeks, the share of the subtype has grown from five to 16 percent. Since BA.2 is believed to be even more infectious than the current dominant subtype (BA.1) in Germany, experts expect this positive trend to continue. 

Referencing developments in neighbouring Denmark, a team at Berlin Technical University warned that Germany could see a resurgence in infections at the end of February because of the BA.2 subtype.

Due to the easier transmissibility of BA.2, "a significantly slower decrease or renewed rise in the number of cases cannot be ruled out", the RKI said. The further development also depends strongly on the impact of increased social contact as Germany eases its Covid restrictions. 

So far in the Omicron wave, the sub-variant BA.1 has dominated. Its share is declining in the RKI evaluations and currently stands at 75 percent.

"In populations with high immunity due to vaccinations or infections, no differences in the severity of the illnesses between BA.1 and BA.2 were found," the weekly report states.

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Demographic changes

In addition, the report indicates that Omicron is increasingly reaching older people, who are more vulnerable to severe courses of illness.

"While seven-day incidences decreased in all age groups up to 69 years, there was a further increase in those aged 70 years and older last week," it said. There are also increasing outbreaks in old people's homes and nursing homes. However, the level of outbreaks this winter is significantly lower than last winter.


At schools, on the other hand, outbreak reports have risen to peak levels since the beginning of the pandemic in the wake of the Omicron wave. The maximum value was reached in the third week of January, with 1,089 outbreaks reported so far. Among children and adolescents aged 5 to 14, the number of recorded infections is still by far the highest among all age groups.

"The high number of outbreaks may be related to the Omicron variant that has been circulating dominantly since 2022, the temporarily expanded testing activities and varying effectiveness of the hygiene concepts in schools," the RKI explained. 

On Friday, the RKI reported a 7-day incidence of Covid infections of 1,259.5 per 100,000 people - down from 1,265 the previous day and 1,371.7 the previous week. 

Local authorities in Germany reported 210,743 new Covid infections and 226 deaths within the last 24-hour period. 



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