For many weeks, the number of new coronavirus infections in Germany per 100,00 inhabitants over 7 days had been increasing daily – but this is now changing: on Wednesday, the incidence rate reported by the Robert Koch Institute was 1,450.8, only slightly above the previous day’s value (1,441.0). This trend has been evident for several days now. Is the wave breaking or is there some other explanation for this situation? Here is what to consider when assessing the current pandemic situation in Germany.
Is this already the peak of the fifth coronavirus wave in Germany?
According to Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and Robert Koch Institute head Lothar Wieler, the peak of the fifth wave of coronavirus has still not been reached in Germany. This is expected to happen in February. However, these predictions are subject to uncertainty. For example, the model on which the Robert Koch Institute’s predictions are based does not yet take into account the impact of a coronavirus variant that experts believe will spread in the coming weeks: this is the new Omicron subvariant BA.2. According to current knowledge, this variant could be even more infectious, which could lead to the Omicron wave lasting longer than expected.
What is the situation in different regions of Germany?
According to the Robert Koch Institute, the seven-day incidence of COVID-19 continues to rise in some German states, while others have seen a recent decline or stagnation in the rate of cases. Berlin health senator Ulrike Gote said Tuesday that the peak of the fifth wave may have already been reached or even exceeded in the capital. Data from laboratories indicate that.
What role do the tests play?
For weeks, laboratories across Germany have been reporting new record highs, both in terms of the number of tests performed and the percentage of positive results. In many states, more than every second sample tested is positive. The percentage of positive results, which has reached a record high of about 45 percent nationwide, suggests that many infections are not currently confirmed in laboratories, meaning that they are not included in official statistics. “The higher the percentage of positive results combined with the persistently high number of new infection cases, the higher the number of undetected infections in the population” – explains the Robert Koch Institute in its weekly report on the coronavirus pandemic. According to the head of the RKI Wieler, so far there is no indication that the peak of the fifth wave of the pandemic has already been reached in Germany.
What is the current testing situation?
Experts wonder how people’s testing behavior will evolve amid discussions about limited PCR testing options. Sometimes very long lines outside testing centers and possible longer wait times for results for people who are not in priority groups may make PCR tests less likely to be performed, especially for mild disease. Some people isolate themselves after a positive rapid test but no longer confirm the result with PCR – such cases are not included in statistics that only consider PCR-confirmed infections.
What is the course of the disease when infected with the Omicron variant?
It was first seen in other countries, with time also in Germany: “The percentage of people who develop a severe course of the disease is lower for the Omikron variant than for the Delta variant,” Wieler said. The proportion of unvaccinated people who presented to hospital with coronavirus infection was almost twice as high with the Delta variant as with Omicron. However, data from the Robert Koch Institute still support a much higher risk for unvaccinated people.
What role does age play?
So far, Sars-CoV-2 is mainly contracted by younger people in Germany. In intensive care units, there is a renewed increase in the number of patients with COVID-19. The number of deaths is currently falling, but could rise again, Wieler said. As far as the 60+ age group is concerned, there are more unvaccinated people in Germany than in other countries.
What about loosening pandemic restrictions in Germany?
Lauterbach warned that loosening restrictions prematurely could lead to the fifth wave of the pandemic lasting longer. Last year, the Robert Koch Institute outlined its proposals for easing restrictions. No such document has yet been published in the context of the Omicron option. A spokeswoman for the Robert Koch Institute said it is constantly monitoring the development of the pandemic and adjusting its recommendations on an ongoing basis, but that it is ultimately up to politicians to decide what action to take.
How to deal with possible new variants of the virus in the future?
Even if the Omicron wave dies out, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the pandemic. Other variants may emerge that are very different from the ones that already exist. An effective defense against them is to vaccinate populations around the world.