Germany sees steep rise in new Covid infections

Germany has reported a significant rise in daily Covid infections and the 7-day incidence, which experts think is being fuelled by the Omicron sub-variant BA.2.

A sign telling people to wear a FFP2 mask at a store in Munich.
A sign telling people to wear a FFP2 mask at a store in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tobias Hase

Health offices logged 262,752 confirmed Covid-19 infections within the latest 24 hour period – that is 52,079 cases more than the number counted last Thursday. 

During that same time period, 259 people died in connection with the virus. 

The nationwide 7-day incidence rose to 1,388.5 infections per 100,000 people from 1,319.0 the previous day, according to Robert Koch Institute (RKI) data.

It comes after a period of falling Covid infections in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Germany to keep Covid safeguards in place after March 20th

The number of Covid patients admitted to hospitals per 100,000 residents within seven days was 6.62 on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, there are around 2,117 Covid-19 patients in intensive care wards in German hospitals, with 943 receiving ventilation treatment. 

What’s fuelling the rise?

In the RKI’s latest in-depth report from March 3rd, which refers to data up to February 20th, 38 percent of Covid infections involved a subtype of the Omicron variant known as BA.2.

Experts say the subtype could even account for the majority of infections in Germany – and appears to be fuelling the current increase. 

Due to this subtype being more transmissible than the Omicron variant, the RKI said in a previous report that “a significantly slower decrease or renewed rise in the number of cases cannot be ruled out”.

Where are infections rising?

When looking at the daily case figures published by the RKI, it is noticeable that the infection figures are currently particularly high in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia and are still rising sharply. Recent carnival celebrations could be one explanation for this.

However, the Health Ministry said it isn’t certain that these two factors are connected. German health authorities are struggling to trace infection chains because there are so many cases. 

As well as being more transmissible, studies suggest that BA.2, which has spread in several other countries, can break through immunity more easily than other variants. 

So what does this mean for the Covid situation in Germany with plans to phase out most restrictions this month?

READ ALSO: Germany’s planned Covid strategy after ‘freedom day’

Bernd Salzberger, from the University of Regensburg, told broadcaster BR24 that he believes the situation will get better when the weather improves and people are outside more. 

But the number of cases will decrease more slowly “than we thought”, Salzberger said. He stressed that those who are vaccinated are more protected against severe illness and complications with Covid.

Salzberger said that a fourth vaccine jab – being offered to vulnerable people in Germany – is important amid the rising cases.

“And the second point is actually still to be cautious,” said Salzberger. “Mr Lauterbach (German Health Minister) keeps saying it and I think we still have to stick to that.”

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Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

As the weather warms up and tourism returns to Germany, this spring feels more normal than the last two years. So what is the pandemic situation in Germany - and how will it develop?

Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

Covid cases falling – but lots of unreported infections

The number of Covid infections in Germany has been falling recently, according to official figures. On Tuesday, 107,568 Covid infections were logged within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 218 deaths. The 7-day incidence fell to 522.7 infections per 100,000 people. 

The Robert Koch Institute’s weekly report from May 5th stated: “The peak of the current wave has clearly been passed, many hospitalisation indicators and and deaths continue to decrease.”

But experts warned that “the infection pressure remains high with almost 600,000 Covid-19 cases transmitted to the RKI within the last week”.

It’s worth keeping in mind that many cases of Covid are going unreported. 

Johannes Nießen, chairman of the Federal Association of Public Health Service Physicians, told Tagesschau: “Many rapid tests are not confirmed by PCR testing. And since only PCR testing is included in the incidence-value calculation, we assume that the incidence value is at least twice as high as reported.”

READ ALSO: Germany reports no Covid deaths: What does it mean?

Changes to testing 

There was a time a few months ago when you had to queue for a long time to get a Covid test in Germany. But after the testing priorities changed (with a focus on PCR testing for key workers and vulnerable groups) and Covid restrictions were eased, test stations became quieter. 

And at the end of May, there will be another key change – government-funded Schnelltests will no longer be free to the public. So it won’t be possible to run to your nearest test station to check on your infection status if you think you have Covid. You’ll either need to buy a self-test or pay for a test at the centre. 

A pop-up Covid testing station in Münich.

A pop-up Covid testing station in Münich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

… but there are still Covid restrictions in place 

The so-called 3G and 2G rules – meaning people had to show some kind of proof to enter a venue like a restaurant – are no longer in place across Germany. 

Mask rules were also relaxed around the beginning of April.

But people in Germany still have to wear a Covid mask on public transport as well as long-distance trains and planes. They also remain in places where there are lots of vulnerable people such as hospitals, care homes and shelters for the homeless.

Some independent businesses and organisations can, however, ask visitors to wear a mask or take a test. 

Covid isolation rules are still in place but they have changed, too.

Now people who get a positive Covid test have to isolate for at least five days. They have the possibility to end it after five days if they haven’t had symptoms for 48 hours, or with a negative test (depending on the state rules). If symptoms or positive test results persist, isolation can last a maximum of 10 days. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

Reinfections on the rise

It is unclear exactly how many people have been infected more than once. But figures from the Baden-Württemberg state health office show that cases of reinfection are increasing. In December 2021, the share of reinfections in the south-west state stood at 0.5 percent, and in April it rose to 3.6 percent. However, these are only the numbers that have been reported. 

Experts say the reason for the increase in reinfections since the beginning of the year is the Omicron variant. Virologist Martin Stürmer told Tagesschau: “In the beginning, we had the variants Alpha to Delta. The variants were so similar that the antibodies continued to provide good protection against infection or reinfection after vaccination or infection.

“With the Omicron variant, however, the virus has changed so much that this is no longer the case, so that reinfections occur more frequently despite vaccination, boosting or recovery status.”

However, Stürmer said vaccination does protect against severe illness. 

Within the Omicron variant, reinfection with the BA.2 sub-variant after an infection with BA.1 is rare, according to Stürmer. 

Although Omicron has been shown to cause less severe illness in the population in general, ‘long Covid’ – where symptoms persist for a longer period of time – is still a concern and something experts in Germany are watching closely. 

What about new variants?

Experts are urging people to be aware that new variants could emerge in the current climate. 

Stürmer said it’s important to keep in mind that “by allowing a lot of infection, we also allow the emergence of new variants, because basically the mutation rate is higher if we allow a lot of infection”.

“The virus changes,” he added, “and it may be that at some point there will be another variant that challenges us more.”

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said in April that he expected the pandemic situation to be more relaxed in the summer. But he warned of possible waves and future variants in autumn.