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COVID-19

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?

People enjoy the sunny weather in a Frankfurt park.
People enjoy the sunny weather in a Frankfurt park. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

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.

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COVID-19 STATS

EXPLAINED: Where Covid infections are rising rapidly in Germany

Covid numbers throughout Germany are rising, with the states of Saarland, Bavaria and some regions of Hesse seeing particularly high numbers of infections. We look at recent stats, and explore what they mean.

EXPLAINED: Where Covid infections are rising rapidly in Germany

What’s the overall picture?

On Monday, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported a nationwide incidence of 598.1 infections per 100,000 people within seven days – an increase of over 100 from the previous week, when the incidence was at 471.1.

According to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI), as of Sunday there were 1,468 Covid-19 patients in intensive care units throughout the country – an increase of nearly 50 percent from the previous week when 996 people were reported to be in ICUs with Covid.

But the numbers of infections and hospitalisations vary greatly throughout the country.

States like Berlin and Hamburg, for example, have currently relatively low Covid incidence rates, with 351.6 and 219.0 confirmed infections per 100,000 residents respectively.

One thing to keep in mind though, is that because rapid Covid tests are no longer free for everyone, fewer positive tests are being reported to authorities. 

These are the areas which are currently being hardest hit by the autumn wave.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Saarland

The Covid case volume in the southwestern state of Saarland has been far above the national average since the end of September.

On Monday, the RKI reported an incidence of 1248.5  infections per 100,000 people in seven days – more than twice as high as in Germany as a whole.

Saarland’s health minister Magnus Jung (SPD) called the rapid development of infections “worrying”  and said that the situation is tense for both the healthcare system and critical infrastructure in the region. He said that the situation in hospitals was “alarming”, as many planned operations were having to be cancelled or rescheduled due to staffing and occupancy issues. 

READ ALSO: What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

As a result, the state government is currently considering all options for improving the situation – including amending the state’s Covid regulations to introduce stricter measures, such as mask-wearing in public authority buildings, the health minister said.  

The state health minister has appealed to people to wear masks indoors and to test themselves before attending events and before private meetings. 

As far as the care of Covid patients in intensive care units is concerned, the Saarbrücken Regional Association is currently in eighth place in a nationwide comparison of counties. Here, the proportion of all Covid patients requiring intensive care is 26 percent.

Bavaria

The Covid autumn wave is resulting in 7-day incidences of over 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in more and more Bavarian cities and counties, and is putting a strain on hospitals. On Friday morning, the RKI reported official figures above 1,000 for nine counties and the state capital Munich.

Guests celebrate in the Schützenzelt at the start of the 187th Munich Oktoberfest. Covid infections rose significantly in Munich since the start of the event. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

On Monday, the 7-day incidence for the whole of Bavaria stood at 810.5 infections per 100,000 people – an increase of almost 25 percent within one week and the second-highest figure of all German states.

READ ALSO: Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

The increasing infection numbers are being felt in hospitals in Bavaria too. On Friday, the city of Munich reported an occupancy of 552 patients with Covid in regular, intensive care and transitional care units – a 47 percent increase from the previous week.

Hesse

The central state of Hesse, where the city of Frankfurt is located, currently has the third highest 7-day incidence in the country – with 746.1 cases per 100,000.

The district of Vogelsbergkreis is currently experiencing particularly high numbers of Covid infections, and as of Monday had an incidence of 1,115.7.

As a result, three of the main hospitals in the district announced a ban on visitors to the hospital last week.

Hygiene and safety expert at the Eichhof hospital in the Vogelsbergkreis, Dr. Gerhard Holzberger, told a local newspaper: “There is no alternative to the measure, the situation is again clearly tense in all areas of life – but especially in the healthcare system.” 

Thuringia

Although the incidence in Thuringia is currently below the national average (475.8 infections per 100,000 people in seven days on Monday) the state currently has the highest number of Covid patients in intensive care in the country. 

In the district of Eisenach in Thuringia, the percentage of Covid patients in intensive care is currently at 47 percent.

What do the rising numbers mean for Germany?

In its weekly report released last Thursday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) pointed out that it’s difficult to interpret how dangerous Covid infections really are just by looking at the data.

READ ALSO: When – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

That’s because the figures relating to Covid-positive patients in intensive care don’t make clear whether a patient is in intensive care due to a Covid infection, or if they require treatment for another illness and happen to have Covid too.

A nurse stands in the Covid isolation area of a hospital intensive care unit in Niedersachsen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

As for the increasing 7-day incidence of cases per 100,000 residents, many medical experts have said that, with 76.3 percent of the population now fully vaccinated, they expect most people to experience mild cases of Covid this autumn and winter.

The main concern related to rising Covid numbers, however, is that – as is currently the case in Saarland – rising infections will mean staff shortages in hospitals and other critical services.

People have to isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 10 days in Germany if they get a positive test result.

In an interview last week with the German Medical Journal, Christian Karagiannidis, president of the German Society for Internal Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DGIIN), said that the mood amongst hospital staff up and down the country is currently tense.

“Staffing levels are thin,” he said. “If there are also severe absences due to Covid or other infectious diseases such as influenza, the atmosphere quickly deteriorates. The system is no longer resilient.”

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