Germany’s Covid incidence reaches record high before measures are lifted

Germany is set to relax almost all Covid measures on March 20th, but infections are rising significantly again.

A man getting a Covid test in Hamburg.
A man getting a Covid test in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

On Tuesday Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control reported 1,585.4 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people within seven days – the highest number since the start of the pandemic. On Monday, the 7-day incidence was 1543.0, and a week ago it was 1,293.6.

Health authorities reported 198,888 new coronavirus infections within the latest 24 hour period, nearly 42,000 more than the same day a week ago. Meanwhile, 238 people died in connection with Covid-19 within the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths since the pandemic in Germany began to 125,873.

Experts believe a high number of cases are not being recorded in official data because health offices are struggling to trace all chains of infection. 

Is Germany set to relax measures?

Yes. In February the German government and 16 states announced a three-step plan to phase out almost all Covid measures. 

On Sunday, March 20th – the day after the current Infection Protection Act expires – far-reaching measures will be lifted.

A new law will see basic measures remain in place with a mechanism for states to bring in tougher rules if the situation calls for it. The Bundestag is to debate the draft legislation on Wednesday.

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

The German government says measures can be relaxed because the Omicron variant of Covid generally causes less severe illness than previous variants, and there is no longer a threat of the health system being overwhelmed 

Protective measures – such as Covid health pass rules – will remain possible in so-called ‘hotspots’ with high numbers of infections.

The general obligation to wear a mask is to be partially dropped. It will, however, remain in nursing homes, hospitals and in local as well as long-distance public transport.

But politicians say rising infections mean the plans should be reconsidered.

The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the states (KMK), for instance, is calling for improvements to the Infection Protection Act for schools.

READ ALSO: Will Germany lift its Covid restrictions amid rising infections?

Karin Prien, education minister of Schleswig-Holstein, told the Funke Mediengruppe that states should be able to impose compulsory masks in schools even after March 20th – if necessary.

She said states would like to see the all restrictions lifted in schools by May at the latest. But at the moment a nationwide regulation for basic protection is necessary, “which also makes it possible to have compulsory masks and compulsory tests available as tools when needed”, said Prien.

Member comments

  1. Can’t blame the unvaxxed for this seeing as they were banned from everywhere except essential shops. So I wonder what has caused the increase in “cases”. Omicron anybody. People should watch John Campbells (UK) videos. From being very pro vax to realising that we have been lied to especially on ivermectin.

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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.