Covid infection numbers are currently falling in Germany. On Monday, the seven-day incidence rate – the number of new infections per 100,000 people in one week – stood at 404.1. The previous week, this figure was at 584 and the week before, the seven-day incidence was 680.9.
Currently, the Omicron subtype BA.5 is the dominant Covid strain in Germany, with its share in detected Covid infections currently around 96 percent, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).
However, the RKI has also reported that sub-variants of the Omicron BA.5 strain are increasingly being detected in Germany. According to the Institute’s weekly report released last week, there has been a marked increase in the proportion of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 pathogens detected in random samples since late August.
The RKI estimates that the proportion of Covid infections attributable to these subvariants is still quite low – according to the report, infections caused by BQ.1 currently account for about two percent of all Covid cases, with BQ 1.1 accounting for just under three percent.
However, Moritz Gerstung of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg told DPA that these figures are likely to lag behind: “The proportion at present, according to our calculations, is around six percent for BQ.1 and seven percent for BQ.1.1,” he said.
How dangerous are the new sub-variants?
It’s not yet clear how dangerous the new BQ.1.1 subvariant is in terms of severity of symptoms, but what is clear is that this strain has developed mechanisms that are better able to bypass immune protection.
That means that this will likely lead to a rise in infection numbers, even among those who have already had the coronavirus.
The European Centers for Disease Control (ECDC) recently warned about the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 substrains and announced that the number of cases will probably continue to rise in the near future.
However, it also said there is no evidence yet of more severe infections compared with the BA.4 and BA.5 strains, but there is so far very limited data available on this.
Carsten Watzl, secretary general of the German Society for Immunology, stated that even though the new strains could generate more infections, they won’t necessarily lead to severe illnesses. He said that BQ.1.1, for example, “can never completely overcome immunity”.
Experts are also optimistic about the protection offered by the vaccine adapted to the BA.5 Omicron strain to the new variants.
Virologist Friedemann Weber told Focus.de: “So far, vaccinations have been very reliable in protecting against severe courses, even with new variants. This will not be different with BQ.1.1 etc.”.
Scientist Cornelius Römer also told Focus.de that the BA.5 booster provides the best protection and that “now is a pretty good time to get a booster.”