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

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

Published: 22 July 2022 11:18 CEST

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.

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“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. 

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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 (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. 

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