Surgeries are not only feeling the strain of the latest Omicron wave but are also reporting higher-than-usual patient visits for colds and respiratory infections.
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), an estimated 4.5 million people suffered from an acute respiratory illness (ARE) in Germany within one week at the end of June and start of July. This corresponds to around one in 18 people.
In previous years – both during and before the Covid pandemic – the number of similar infections over summer was far lower. An ARE is when a patient has a respiratory illness with fever, cough or sore throat. It includes people with Covid infections, which often affect the respiratory pathways.
At a time when GPs are struggling to cope with a high number of Covid patients, around 1.2 million people visited the doctor with an acute respiratory infection within one week, the RKI said.
This is around three times higher than pre-pandemic. However, the fact that people are more likely to go to the doctor with mild symptoms during the pandemic may be one factor in the higher patient numbers.
Speaking to DPA on Monday, Ulrich Weigeldt, the Federal Chairman of the German Association of General Practitioners, said doctors had noticed the spike in infections in their practices.
“GP practices have been under great strain for years,” he said. “At the moment, however, the volume of patients is once again particularly high.”
This was backed up by reports from pharmacists, who according to the Association of German Pharmacists have been reporting an increase in colds lately.
Meanwhile, the Professional Association of Paediatricians and Adolescents (BVKJ) said it had noted “somewhat more infections than at the same time in the years before Covid”.
In children, the main cause of the respiratory infections are the high cases of rhinovirus and parainfluenza, the RKI reported.
Tense situation on wards
According to the RKI, Covid-19 is still by far the most significant cause of increased illness in adults this summer.
As of Monday, the 7-day incidence of infections stood at 661 per 100,000 people in Germany.
The country has been experiencing a renewed wave of infections due to the increased prevalence of two highly infectious Omicron subtypes: BA.4 and BA.5.
The rising infection numbers and staff illness in hospitals has caused an increased tense situation on intensive care wards, with doctors reporting that the usual summer lull has failed to materialised.
“We already have to look at closing the ranks again, which means we have to shift staff, we have to get staff out of their free time, so after two weekends we also have to work the third weekend,” Gernot Marx, head of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (Divi), told ZDF’s Morgenmagazin.
“We also have to unfortunately postpone some operations that are not absolutely necessary, so that we can take care of all our emergencies safely.”
Though most of the current Covid infections are mild, the amount of staff absences due to quarantine and self-isolation means that around 2,000 fewer intensive care beds are currently in use.