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Is Germany facing a Covid ‘fourth wave’ fuelled by the Delta variant?

Is Germany facing a Covid 'fourth wave' fuelled by the Delta variant?
People enjoying summer in Zinnowitz, northern Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer
Is Germany on the cusp of a resurgence of Covid cases? And if so, how serious will the situation get?

Although the Covid infection curve is pointing upwards, the situation today in Germany is very different compared to last year – that’s because more than 43 percent of people are fully vaccinated, and nearly 60 percent are partially inoculated. 

But there are still concerns about rising infections and how to protect children and vulnerable people with the more transmissible Delta variant now the dominant Covid strain in Germany. 

Here’s an overview of what’s going on right now. 

What are the current Covid figures in Germany?

For just over a week, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections has been rising every day. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Wednesday, there were 7.1 Covid infections per 100,000 people within seven days up from 6.5 the previous day. A week earlier, this incidence stood at around 5. These numbers are still very low.

On Wednesday Germany reported 1,548 new Covid infections within a day and there were 28 deaths related to the virus. 

As the Our World in Data graph shows, this upward trend is being seen in several European countries currently – and at a fast pace. 

So, are we actually heading into a fourth wave?

Experts in Germany agree that the number of Covid infections will go up. However, the situation – and the number of hospitalisations – depends on vaccination coverage, particularly among risk groups. 

With a view to autumn, the head of the German Hospital Association, Gerald Gaß told German daily Bild: “We expect much fewer Covid patients in the hospitals with the same (Covid infection) incidence.”

Gaß said he is critical of the term “fourth wave”, adding: “That only creates fear among citizens that with increasing case numbers, intensive care units will again be full of Covid patients – but thanks to vaccination, that won’t be the case.”

READ ALSO: Germany to ‘focus more on hospital admissions’ when deciding Covid measures 

Other countries battling a surge in cases are also not seeing as high hospitalisation rates as previous waves. 

In the Netherlands, for instance, Covid infections spiked by more than 500 percent in a week, according to the country’s public health institute said on Tuesday. It came after the country got rid of almost all of its remaining lockdown restrictions, and reopened night clubs in late June. But hospital admissions increased by a modest 11 percent, the institute said. 

The president of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI), Gernot Marx takes a similar view to Gaß.

He said: “In Germany, we currently have more than half of the adult population vaccinated, which will be clearly reflected in the occupancy of intensive care units. In the event of a renewed increase in incidence, we therefore expect a much flatter curve with regard to seriously ill patients.”

But Marx stressed, “If infection rates jump and grow unchecked, we will also again see a significant increase in seriously ill patients who need to be treated in intensive care.

“We must not forget that 40 million people in Germany have not yet been vaccinated.” 

A sign for a vaccination centre in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

President of the German Medical Association, Klaus Reinhardt, said the extent to which the increased Covid infection incidence levels will lead to a burden on the health system depends largely on the vaccination rate.

“I think every adult has a responsibility to help keep the incidence of infection down through vaccination – also to protect children,” he said. “They are the big losers of the pandemic so far.”

Reinhardt slammed the fact there is no high profile TV advert campaign for Covid vaccines. Reinhardt said authorities needed to “approach the people”, whether it’s in sports clubs, cultural associations and religious groups to get jabs into people’s arms.

READ ALSO: ‘We need more ads’: Germany moves focus of vaccine drive to target the undecided

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach said it was expected that cases in Germany would go up with the loosening of Covid restrictions.

“The case numbers are rising again, but that was to be expected with the relaxations that have just been decided,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse on Wednesday.

“They will also continue to go up. But if we don’t open up drastically now, and stick to the most important rule in the pandemic summer – namely keeping things outside as much as possible and remaining cautious indoors – then we’ll get through fine.”

Commenting on England’s plans to get rid of Covid measure on July 19th – dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ – Lauterbach warned this action “only creates a wave of chronically ill long-Covid patients”.

Will there be more restrictions – or another lockdown?

Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated on Tuesday that Germany does not want to bring in new lockdown measures if a fourth wave arrives.

“We are of course doing everything we can to prevent that,” she said. 

Health Minister Jens Spahn recently said people who are vaccinated against Covid will not have to go into full lockdown mode again and will enjoy more freedoms than unvaccinated people in the case of another virus resurgence.

“As long as there are no mutations that impact the protection from vaccines… then being fully vaccinated means that restrictions of the kind we saw last winter will not be necessary, needed or legally appropriate,” Spahn said on July 2nd. 

Germany wants to ideally see 85 percent of 12-to 59-year-olds vaccinated, as well as 90 percent of those over 60 to battle the Delta variant. 

“If this vaccination quota is reached in time, a pronounced fourth wave in the coming autumn and winter seems unlikely,” the Robert Koch Institute said in a paper released last week. 

But Merkel said Germany was not considering compulsory vaccinations, including for certain groups such as teachers or healthcare workers. 

She did, however, call on people to get vaccinated and continue to observe rules such as keeping a distance, ventilating indoor spaces and wearing a face mask on public transport. 

“A vaccination not only protects you, but also always someone you are close to, someone you care about, someone you love,” Merkel said.

READ ALSO: Germany not planning compulsory vaccinations, says Merkel

“The more people who are vaccinated, the freer we will be again,” Merkel stressed. “Vaccination also allows us to cope with higher incidences.”


Member comments

  1. Again, I feel that some people don’t want the few days of feeling ill after a jab – maybe losing a day of work because of it, And if people feel they can do everything in their freetime they want to merely by getting a free test, many will say “why bother?”
    I cite Dortmund as an example – right in the City centre are walk-through free test places. But where are the Impfzentrums? Only one, South of the City, a twenty minute U-bahn plus 3 minute Bus ride away. Nothing in the Centre or the North. They need to implement these pop-up Impfzentrums now, not talk about it for weeks.

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