Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse, say experts

Covid infections are still on the up in Germany and experts are predicting another rise in numbers when holidaymakers return from abroad.

Guests enjoy the sun at a Hamburg Strandbad
Guests enjoy the sun at a Hamburg Strandbad. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Weber

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) revealed that the number of people infected with Covid had risen in previous days after plateauing the previous week. 

“The increase mainly affected federal states in the centre and south of the country, and especially the age groups of 70 years and older,” the RKI explained. 

In contrast to previous years, the prevalence of the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subtype in Germany this year has meant that the incidence of infections has remained high even in the warmer summer months.

According to the RKI, BA.5 now accounts for 87 percent of positive Covid samples in Germany. 

Experts believe the situation could get worse in the coming weeks thanks to the return of holidaymakers and children in some federal states returning to school.

READ ALSO: Covid lockdowns in Germany shouldn’t be ruled out, says expert

“At the moment, we are observing a dampening of the summer wave in our model, due to the school holidays,” Kai Nagel, who has been modelling the pandemic along with a team of experts at Berlin’s Technical University, told DPA.

“After the summer holidays, our model assumes that the BA.5 wave will be boosted again by returning travellers and also by the start of school.”

This could lead to a longer phase where infections remain high, Nagel added.

Nagel’s assessment of the situation was shared by Essen-based virologist Ulf Dittmer. “The wave has not broken yet,” he warned on Friday.

Virologists are currently debating whether the high number of summer infections could put the country in a better position when autumn rolls around. 

According to Dittmer, the summer wave has definitely improved immunity in the general population – but not everyone is equally protected.

Patients with suppressed immune systems are much harder to protect from severe courses of the illness, he said. Since the BA.5 is so good at evading immunity, there could also be numerous repeat infections. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I get a second Covid booster jab in Germany?

Staff shortages 

The news comes as hospital wards struggle with understaffing due to high numbers of people needing to self-isolate or signing off sick. 

This is the main concern for people working in the health sector at present, Dittmer said. 

On a visit to Washington D.C. this week, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) warned that the situation in autumn could be “catastrophic” if more wasn’t done to contain the virus.

“If we went into autumn as we are now, i.e. without further protective measures, without masks, without anything, then that would mean that the number of cases would rise sharply, but also that the intensive care units would be overloaded,” Lauterbach told DPA on Thursday. 

Health minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) holds a press conference in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

He described the situation in clinics as a “candle burning at both ends”, with understaffing burning at one end and high patient numbers at the other.

Last week, there were a total of 3,300 new hospital admissions with a severe respiratory infection after contracting Covid-19, while the number of patients in intensive care wards rose slightly to 1,330.

The number of people visiting their GP with acute respiratory infections – including Covid infections – hit the 1.2 million mark in the same week.

As of Friday, the weekly incidence of Covid infections stood at 729 per 100,000 people, up from 719 the previous week. 

READ ALSO: Masks and tests: The Covid rules that tourists in Germany should know

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German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

A wave of Covid infections in Germany is causing staff shortages as many people call in sick and isolate - including in hospitals. The number of Covid patients in intensive care is also increasing slightly.

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

Covid-19 infections are sweeping through the country this summer. On Tuesday, Germany reported 147,489 Covid cases within the latest 24 hour period, and 102 deaths.

The number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units in Germany rose to 1,000 on Sunday, and 1,062 on Monday, according to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI). The number of ICU patients hasn’t been at this level since mid-May.

At the last highest point – in December 2021 – just under 4,900 seriously ill patients were being treated with Covid-19 in ICUs, after which the figures dropped with phases where they plateaued. 

And now the increasing staff shortages – due to people getting Covid and having to isolate – is causing growing concern among hospitals and doctors, especially as experts believe it will get worse after summer. 

“We are receiving reports from all federal states that individual wards and departments are having to be closed, due to a lack of staff,” the head of the board of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

At times, emergency admissions are also being cancelled at rescue coordination centres. “This situation worries us considerably with a view to the upcoming autumn,” said Gaß.

READ ALSO: German politicians clash over Covid rules for autumn

Infection figures have risen sharply in recent weeks. The 7-day incidence on Tuesday stood at 687.7 infections per 100,000 people, but experts believe many cases are going unreported. 

“Although the occupancy rate in intensive care is only rising moderately, it is relatively high for a summer, and the beds available are becoming fewer and fewer due to the shortage of staff,” the scientific director of the ICU registry, Christian Karagiannidis, told the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

He said clinics and hospitals should work to allocate capacity across the country.

“This includes regional networks for the best possible distribution of patients by level of care,” he said. “Cooperation, but also relieving the burden on staff, will be the order of the day this autumn and winter,” said Karagiannidis, who also sits on the government’s council of experts team.

Germany’s Covid-19 rules still require that people who get Covid isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 10 days. The rules differ from state to state on how people can end the quarantine period. But health and care workers need to have a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken five days into isolation at the earliest before they can return to work, plus a prior 48-hour symptom-free period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

The German Foundation for Patient Protection rejected a demand to shorten the quarantine period. Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-chairman of the FDP, had proposed people should be able to take a test after only three days to leave isolation.

This “fuels the uncontrolled spread of corona”, said Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the foundation. “That is why the isolation period for corona-positive patients must be extended to 10 days,” Brysch recommend, adding: “This may only be shortened if a PCR test is negative.”