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Home World Corona pandemic in Germany: numbers are increasing, politics is waiting

Corona pandemic in Germany: numbers are increasing, politics is waiting


The new corona infections are currently growing exponentially. The high of Christmas is likely to be exceeded soon. Politicians want to wait and see.

As here in Pulsnitz in Saxony, more people with corona are again in an intensive care unit Photo: Robert Michael / dpa

BERLIN taz | In politics, it’s time to wait and see: Chancellor Angela Merkel is waiting to see whether the prime ministers will at some point still be comfortable implementing the jointly made decisions. Many of these prime ministers are waiting to see whether the number of new infections will not fall again on their own, despite open schools and businesses, when sufficient rapid tests are available at some point. And many people are still waiting to see whether the situation really becomes so threatening that they restrict their contacts again even without government regulations.

But meanwhile the number of infections continues to grow at an undiminished pace. Since the interim low in mid-February, the number of daily reported cases has more than doubled again. The weekly average is currently around 16,700 per day; in the past two weeks this value has increased by 25 to 30 percent per week.

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The hope initially cherished by some that this increase is mainly due to the fact that significantly more rapid tests have been carried out since these are offered free of charge has not been confirmed. Contrary to the announcement by the Robert Koch Institute, there is still no nationwide expansion of the number of rapid tests. But figures from individual federal states show that additional rapid tests can only explain a small part of the increase in new infections; in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, for example, it is less than 10 percent.

The majority of the growth observed is therefore not due to the fact that the number of new infections remains the same, but rather to the fact that there are actually more infections. This can now also be seen in the clinics: The number of corona patients who have to be treated in intensive care units has been increasing significantly for two and a half weeks.

With currently almost 3,600 corona patients, they only occupy 18 percent of the available intensive care beds, but that can change quickly. Because the number of corona intensive care patients is currently growing exponentially, albeit with a weekly increase of 13 percent only about half as fast as the number of new infections.

In contrast, the number of people who die in connection with a corona infection continues to decline. The decline has slowed down considerably; After the 7-day average had already stagnated last week, it is currently around 160 deaths per day, but again 13 percent lower than a week ago. For comparison: at the peak of the first wave last April, an average of 230 people died per day, the maximum of the second wave was just under 900 in mid-January.

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The reason for this different development is the changed age structure of the infected. In the first and second waves, it was the oldest cohorts that were hardest hit. And in this group there are particularly many difficult courses. But people over 80 are now largely vaccinated, so that infections and diseases there have fallen sharply.

Instead, the highest incidence is now seen in the 15 to 50 age groups who have a lot of contacts but have barely been vaccinated so far. They have less severe courses in percentage terms – and thus also intensive cases and deaths. But that does not mean that the disease is harmless: Experts assume that up to 10 percent of those affected in this age group suffer long-term damage to their health.

But why is the number of new infections rising so sharply, even though Germany is officially still in a lockdown? The most important reason is that it is practically a new pandemic. The virus mutation B.1.1.7, which first appeared in the UK, is now responsible for over 80 percent of cases. Because it is at least 30 percent more contagious, even if the conditions had remained the same, the decline at the beginning of the year would have turned into an increase again in the course of spring.

Dirk Brockmann, physicist

“If the rules are relaxed, people also change their behavior in other areas”

But instead of reacting to this foreseeable development with stricter measures, these were even relaxed, above all through more presence in schools and daycare centers and the opening of shops. According to the physicist Dirk Brockmann, the changes in the private sector that go with it are even more decisive. Brockmann heads a working group at the Robert Koch Institute that models the course of epidemics. “If the rules are relaxed, people also change their behavior in other areas,” says the professor at the Berlin Humboldt University of the taz. “A year ago the playgrounds and the highways were empty, now everything looks the same everywhere.”

It is foreseeable that the number of infections and intensive care will continue to rise in the next few weeks. At the current growth rate, the previous high for new infections would be exceeded in two weeks, in intensive care units in about four weeks. But how much the numbers will actually rise is difficult to predict, says modeler Brockmann.

“Long-term prognoses are difficult because society responds to developments.” On the one hand, political intervention is unavoidable at the latest when the intensive care units are overloaded again. On the other hand, people restricted their contacts again on their own if they perceive the situation as threatening again.

But until that happens, politics and society apparently want to wait until the problems are so big that they really cannot be overlooked by anyone.

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