What will new Omicron variants mean for Covid infection numbers in Germany?

A new Omicron sub-variant – nicknamed  "Hellhound" - could soon spread quickly in Germany, according to forecasts.

An employee holds PCR test tubes in a Covid test laboratory.
An employee holds PCR test tubes in a Covid test laboratory. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

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. 

READ ALSO: What to know about getting a fourth Covid vaccination in Germany

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”. 

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

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 “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 that the BA.5 booster provides the best protection and that “now is a pretty good time to get a booster.” 

Member comments

  1. Actually, the evidence shows this shot is no better at providing immunity than the original shot. It isn’t better at providing protection from hospitalization or death either. It is something to consider if you are over 70 or over 50 with serious health issues. Otherwise, COVID is just a bad cold for most.

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First German states scrap face masks on public transport

Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt will drop the mask requirement on public transport and other German states could soon follow.

First German states scrap face masks on public transport

On Monday, German state health ministers met to discuss how to go proceed with Covid regulations this winter. But with regards to wearing masks on public transport, they were unable to reach an agreement.

As a result, on Tuesday, the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Bavaria announced that they will get rid of the mask requirement in local public transport.

From Thursday, people in Saxony-Anhalt can ride buses and trains without masks – from Saturday in Bavaria. The cabinets of the two states justified their decisions on the basis of “a stable Covid infection situation”.

As of Tuesday, the 7-day Covid incidence – the number of new cases per 100,000 people – was 204.2 in the whole of Germany. In Bavaria, the 7-day incidence was 107.9 and 246.5 in Saxony-Anhalt.

READ ALSO: Two German states stop enforcing mandatory Covid-19 isolation

Bavaria’s Health Minister Klaus Holetschek said that a mask requirement for Covid protection is no longer proportionate. Instead, the Bavarian government will recommend people continue wearing masks, rather than obliging them to do so.

Bavarian state leader Markus Söder wrote on Twitter: “The infection situation has been stable for a long time.”

Saxony-Anhalt will also rely on voluntary mask-wearing in local public transport and the obligation will be dispensed with on Thursday, December 8th.  

Will more states follow?

Germany’s most northern state of Schleswig-Holstein plans to decide in the next week on whether or not to end the mask obligation on local transport. Prime Minister Daniel Günther already said recently that his aim was not to extend the mask obligation, which is limited until the end of the year.

However, the state governments of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Saarland and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania made clear on Tuesday that they intend to keep the mask requirement in place for the time being.

What about masks on long-distance transport?

One of the only Covid measures that have been in place nationwide this winter, is the requirement that passengers on long-distance transport still wear face masks. Under the current law, this will remain in place until April 2023.

However, the head of the rail and transport union (EVG), Martin Burkert, spoke out in favour of doing away with the mask requirement on long-distance trains as well.

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

“No one can understand anymore why masks are still mandatory on long-distance trains,” Burkert said.

“If the regulation is retained, there need to be checks by the federal police, not by railroad staff. While the federal states can decide for themselves whether masks are compulsory on local trains, the federal government is responsible for long-distance trains.”