Covid infections start to fall in Germany after autumn break

Following the autumn school holidays, public health officials have reported a decline in Covid infections and doctor visits.

Medical mask on pavement
A medical mask lies on the pavement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

In the Robert Koch Institute’s view, the national spread of Covid-19 is currently tapering off. 

In its weekly pandemic report, the RKI said it had noted a “certain easing” of the situation in Germany. 

Public health officials estimate that between 700,000 and 1.6 million people in Germany were infected with Covid and showed symptoms of an acute respiratory illness in the past week, compared to between 1.1 and 2.2 million the previous week. 

In 350,000 cases, a doctor’s visit revealed a respiratory disease in connection with a Covid-19 diagnosis. This is around 100,000 fewer than the week before. 

READ ALSO: Are German states poised to bring back uniform Covid measures?

Decrease in seven-day incidence

The seven-day incidence of Covid infections also declined by about 16 per cent last week compared to three weeks earlier, the report added. In a sign that the worst of the autumn wave could have passed its peak, this trend was evidenced “in most federal states and in all age groups”.

However, it is currently difficult for health experts to predict whether the decline will continue in the coming weeks. Over the past few weeks, schools in several states have been closed for autumn holidays. 

This could have had an influence on people’s contact with others and their testing behaviour, the RKI explained.

According to the RKI’s figures, the nationwide seven-day incidence is currently 464.1.

The value quantifies how many people were infected with the virus within one week among 100,000 citizens.

The lowest value is currently recorded in the northern city-state of Hamburg, with an incidence of 285.8. The highest incidence of 683.7 is currently recorded in Saarland, followed by 600.7 in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?

Concern over new variants

Over the past months, the Omicron BA.5 subtype has been the dominant variant in Germany. At present, it has almost entirely displaced all other variants, accounting for around 96 percent of all new infections. 

But concern is growing over new sublines of BA.5 that appear to be spreading rapidly.

According to the RKI, the Covid sublines BF.7, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are gaining ground in Germany – though the overall number of infections still remains low. The latest samples suggest that BQ.1 currently accounts for just two percent of Covid infections, while BQ.1.1 accounts for just under three percent.

However, Moritz Gerstung from the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg says the real figure could be more than twice as high. 

“According to our calculations, the share is currently around six per cent for BQ.1 and seven per cent for BQ.1.1,” Gerstung told DPA. 

Bremen freimarkt

Visitors stroll around a fairground at the Bremer Freimarkt in Bremen. The autumn break saw a drop-off in infections. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

Experts also disagree about how dangerous the spread of the new BA.5 sublines could be.

Recently, the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) issued a warning about the rapid spread of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which appear to be more resistent to the human immune response.

However, Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology, estimates that the new subtypes will lead to an increase in infections, but not to an increase in the number of severe cases of the disease as a result of infection.

The spread of the new variants should be closely observed, but there is no need to take additional measures just yet, Watzl said. 

In September, Germany started rolling out two new Omicron-adapted vaccines – including a Pfizer vaccine adapted to the BA.4 and BA.5 subtypes – in vaccine centres and GPs. 

These adapted vaccines, which offer better protection against Omicron in particular, are now recommended for all booster jabs. 

READ ALSO: Where – and how – people can get the new Omicron vaccine in Germany

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German public health authority lowers Covid risk rating

Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which advises the federal government, has downgraded Covid-19 from being a “high health risk” to a “moderate risk.”

German public health authority lowers Covid risk rating

As of this week, all of Germany’s federal states have lifted their requirement to wear FFP2 or KN95 masks on public transport, while the federal government no longer requires masks on long-distance trains.

Alongside this news, the RKI released its weekly report Thursday evening finally lowering its advisory for Covid-19 to “moderate.” It had previously considered the health risk of Covid-19 “high” – a status it had for almost the entire duration of the pandemic. 

The RKI says it could still upgrade the risk again if the Covid-19 situation in Germany worsens. It recommends that people still wear a mask indoors, ventilate their indoor spaces, and isolate at home if they get sick.

Isolation requirements remain on the books in many – but not all – federal states, even as masking requirements on public transport have lifted around the country.

The number of Covid-19 cases reported to the RKI increased by about 16 percent this weak. However, the number of severe cases requiring hospital care continues to fall.

Although mask requirements have been lifted on public transport and even in doctor’s surgeries in some states, federal regulations still require people to mask up if they visit a hospital or care home. In some cases, a negative Covid-19 test may be required to enter these facilities.

READ ALSO: What Covid rules are still in place in Germany from February?