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Will Germany’s Covid infections ease up in time for Easter?

With high Covid infection numbers and restrictions being rolled back across Germany, the outlook for Easter looks uncertain. Here are the latest predictions from the experts.

Will Germany's Covid infections ease up in time for Easter?
Easter chocolates in the shape of a rooster and a rabbit with a mask on display in the confectionery shop of Julian Orlowski and Kazimierz Rak in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PAP | Darek Delmanowicz

Over the last few months, the spring has often been cited as the time when the Covid situation in Germany would start to ease up again and, on the basis of this prognosis, measures to roll back nationwide restrictions came into force on March 20th – albeit amidst wide-spread criticism from state leaders and scientists. 

But on March 24th, Covid infections within 24-hours reached a record high of over 300,000 and 7-day incidences continue to be in the thousands for all federal states, suggesting that the outlook for spring is not as positive as previously hoped for. 

READ ALSO: Germany sees more than 300,000 Covid infections in 24 hours

What are the prospects for Easter currently looking like?

On Monday, German news site Focus Online published an interview with Statistician Christian Hesse, who forecast a continuation of the upward trend in incidences in the coming weeks as the new Omicron variant BA.2 continues to spread amid lesser restrictions. 

The spread of the Omicron sub-variant “is accompanied by a changed and less cautious contact behaviour of parts of the population,” explains Hesse. “This could be due to the fact that fear of Covid has been somewhat eclipsed by fears of war.”

Even if the majority of the population continues to behave cautiously, “that is not enough, because the majority of new infections are caused by a minority of frequenters and super-spreaders,” he says.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister defends lifting of Covid measures

As a result, Hesse expects Covid infection numbers to continue to rise in the next few weeks leading up to Easter. This view is also shared by the head of Charité hospital in Berlin, Christian Drosten, who told die Zeit last week: “Currently we are also in a high incidence phase. And it will stay that way until Easter if we don’t intervene.”

Why are the infection numbers increasing so much?

According to Hesse, the Omicron variant BA.2 is largely responsible for high infection numbers: “According to a Japanese study, the Omicron subtype BA.2, which is now dominant in our country, is 1.4 times more infectious than the main Omicron line BA.1 under otherwise identical conditions.”

Added to this new, more contagious variant, is the fact that many restrictions have been rolled back since March 20th. However, most federal states still have a transitional period in place and are able to introduce tighter restrictions if the situation worsens considerably in their states. 

READ ALSO: Germany logs 1.5 million weekly Covid infections as Omicron subtype spreads

The exact parameters of the so-called ‘hotspot regulation’ are due to be thrashed out by the state health ministers in a conference on Monday, which may see the threshold for putting tougher restrictions in place lowered to halt rising infection numbers. 

Some good news

Despite the fact that the chances of catching Covid are higher than ever before, there are also some positive trends.

The hospitalisation rate is now 25 percent lower than during the winter wave in January 2021, and the ICU occupancy rate is less than half as much as during the peak of the Delta wave in mid-December 2021.

The number of patients requiring artificial ventilation has dropped to 38 percent, which, according to Hesse, is an indicator that the Omicron BA.2 variant causes much milder courses than Delta.

The risk of death with symptomatic Omicron infection has also decreased slightly, to 0.09 percent.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.