Covid infections rise in Germany as Omicron spreads

The 7-day incidence has hit more than 300 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people in Germany as the highly transmissible Omicron continues to spread.

Kiel city centre
Crowds of people walk along the pedestrianised streets in Kiel. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

On Friday, the weekly incidence of new Covid cases jumped to 303 per 100,000 people – the highest level seen since before Christmas.

Covid infections had been dropping throughout December after state governments introduced tough curbs on unvaccinated people, but with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, the figures have once again started to rise.

The 7-day incidence of Covid infections has jumped significantly from 215 per 100,000 people a week ago, and 286 on Thursday.

Daily infection numbers continue to be high, with 56,335 new infections recorded within 24 hours. Friday was the third day in a row that more than 50,000 new infections were recorded daily. 

Health authorities also reported 264 Covid-related deaths within a day on Friday, with the incidence of Covid hospitalisations per 100,000 people rising from 3.20 to 3.26.  

Even though the numbers have been increasing day by day, the RKI said that the number of new infections is underestimated due to less testing and underreporting of numbers during the holidays.

Omicron nearly dominant

After being discovered in South Africa in late November, the super-infectious Omicron variant has almost replaced Delta as the dominant variant in Germany. 

In its last weekly report, the RKI said Omicron had accounted for around 45 percent of all positive Covid cases in the previous week, while the share of Delta was continually decreasing. 

As of Friday, laboratories had reported around 62,974 confirmed or suspected cases of Omicron in Germany – compared to around half this number (32,198) when the RKI produced its report on Thursday. 

“In the coming weeks, a strong increase in infections with the variant of concern Omicron, which is also more easily transmissible in vaccinated and recovered persons, is expected,” the RKI warned in their report.

However, there are strong regional differences in the prevalence of the variant, with the majority of cases being recorded in the northern states of Germany.

While the share of Omicron is 85.5 percent in Bremen, it has only been detected in 3.2 percent of cases in Saxony-Anhalt. Schleswig-Holstein was the first German state to see Omicron take over from Delta as the dominant variant. 

READ ALSO: What effect is the Omicron wave having on German hospitals?

Covid risk ‘very high’ 

Due to the rapid spread of Omicron in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) currently classifies the risk to public health as “very high”. 

However, certain groups are deemed more at risk than others, the public health authority said. 

“The risk of infection is assessed as very high for the group of unvaccinated people, high for the groups of recovered people and vaccinated persons with basic immunisation (two vaccinations) and moderate for the group of vaccinated persons with booster vaccination,” the RKI wrote in its report. 

Though measures such as vaccinated-only entry for public venues had driven infections down before Christmas, intensive care wards are still overburdened with Covid patients, the RKI explained.

As of January 5th, 3,561 people with a Covid diagnosis were being treated in an intensive care unit, with just under 3,000 of these receiving respiratory support. 

Federal and state leaders are meeting on Friday to discuss potential measures to tackle a potential Omicron wave, including shortening quarantine to prevent staff shortages in key industries and introducing compulsory ‘2G plus’ (entry for vaccinated people with a negative test) in restaurants and bars.


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Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.