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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.

Pedestrians walking through central Munich.
Pedestrians walking through central Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

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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COVID-19 STATS

Germany could still be hit by winter Covid wave, health minister warns

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has criticised states that have loosened their Covid restrictions in recent weeks, as he warned that Germany could be on the brink of another wave.

Germany could still be hit by winter Covid wave, health minister warns

Speaking on Bayerischer Rundfunk Thursday, Lauterbach said he expected Covid infection numbers to rise again over the next weeks.

With Germany “likely at the start of a new winter wave”, Lauterbach said he could not understand states that had started to loosen their existing rules. 

“It feels kind of like a bidding war to see which state can relax their rules first,” he said. “That’s just a little bit populist.” 

Pointing to the some 1,000 people who continue to die each week after contracting Covid, Lauterbach said the existing rules were there to protect people who could not fully protect themselves.

Earlier this week, Bavaria became the second federal state to announce plans to scrap mandatory masks on local public transport, with state premier Markus Söder saying he was “convinced” that the rule could be phased out in either December or January. 

READ ALSO: Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein had already made a similar announcement earlier this month, with the mask-wearing rule due to end in the new year.

Speaking on Bayerischer Rundfunk, Lauterbach dismissed changes to the current restrictions as “reckless” and stressed that the Federal Health Ministry didn’t support plans to relax the rules.

Four states have also taken a further step towards liberalisation in recent weeks by ending the obligation to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid.

Under the current Infection Protection Act, only masks on long-distance transport, in clinics, and in care facilities are mandated on a federal level, while states are allowed to set their own mask-wearing rules on local public transport and in other public spaces.

Pandemic ‘nearly over’ 

While a handful of states look to relax their measures, top virologist Christian Drosten, who sits on the government’s panel of Covid experts, has signaled that the pandemic could soon be drawing to an end.

According to Drosten, the pattern of waves earlier this year show that increasingly small factors are enough to end a slew of infections. At the end of October, for example, a few weeks of summery weather broke the autumn wave entirely.

“The situation for the virus is becoming precarious,” Drosten told Die Zeit. “That is good. It is no longer the case that the virus could completely turn the game around with a few mutations.” 

The Berlin-based virologist said he didn’t expect a more dangerous or deadly mutation of the virus to emerge in the coming months. 

Christian Drosten and Karl Lauterbach

Christian Drosten, director of the Institute of Virology and Charite Berlin, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and RKI chief Lothar Wieler speak at a press conference in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Nevertheless, Drosten warned that the winter could be “difficult” if the highly infectious BQ.1.1 subtype became the dominant variant.

Epidemiologist Klaus Stöhr agreed with Drosten’s assessment, telling Bild that the signs were pointing towards a transition from the pandemic to the endemic phase, largely due to the levels of immunity among the population.

New variants and mutations were bound to appear, he said. 

“But that a variant appears that changes the clinical picture enormously or even worsens it and/or bypasses the acquired immune protection – we don’t see that happening!”

READ ALSO: German opposition leader calls for official end to pandemic next year

Uptick in infections

After falling steadily for a number of weeks, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 stood at 187 on Thursday, up from 178 the previous day.

This represents a slight drop from the previous week’s value of 199 and a significant decline compared to last month’s figure of 584.

However, experts say the incidence has become far less meaningful in recent weeks in light of the massive drop-off in testing – and particularly the negligible number of people who are taking PCR tests. 

According to the latest report from the Robert Koch Institute, 1,566 people were hospitalised with Covid within 24 hours, while 164 people died after contracting the virus. 

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