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As Germans circulate, COVID death rate rises

Gudrun Heise
January 15, 2021

Germans have again been asked to restrict their movements and contacts, yet deaths are increasing rapidly. Officials say it's because people are getting around.

A patient on a ventilator in a German ICU
Intensive care units have filled as people continue to circulate and transmit the virusImage: Bodo Schakow/dpa/picture alliance

Finally, COVID-19 vaccines are available. However, any relief is diminished by Germany's rapidly increasing death toll. "The current lockdown is not particularly effective," Lothar Wieler, the president of Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German agency responsible for the control of infectious diseases, told the public broadcaster ARD on Thursday. Throughout December, he said, people were out and about in much greater numbers than they had been during the first shutdowns in spring last year. As a consequence, the total number of verified infections in Germany since the start of the pandemic has risen to almost 2 million. Much of that, according to the RKI, can be attributed to people gathering with one another.

According to the RKI, there is an average of four days between the onset of symptoms and hospitalization for patients who develop severe COVID-19. The deaths that do result might occur up to 12 days later. Because certain preexisting conditions are likely to increase a person's chances of succumbing to the disease, deaths in Germany are often recorded as people who have die "of or with COVID-19."

With that in mind, the current figures for COVID-19 deaths tend to reflect transmission that would have occurred around the New Year. So, even if the number of new infections drops, the number of deaths can be expected to continue to rise for now.

An elderly woman in a care home
Older people are particularly susceptible to developing severe COVID-19Image: Swen Pförtner/dpa/picture-alliance

The COVID-19 numbers

The COVID-19 death rate is especially high among older people. According to a January 12 graphic provided by the market research company Statista and based on RKI figures, 89% of all COVID-19 deaths in Germany occurred in the age group of 70 and older. The highest proportion of all deaths since the beginning of the pandemic is found in the 80-89 age group, at 46.8%. According to the graphic, the proportion of deaths in the 0-49 age group amounts to 0.9%. Three death occurred in the 10-19 age group, and 11 children younger than 10 have died of COVID-19.

The most common statistic for comparing disparate geographies and population sizes is to adjust the totals to deaths per 100,000 people. The rate of COVID-19 deaths is increasing across the world.

In 2020, Elizabeth Lee led a research team at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US city of Baltimore to look at the causes of the rising rate of deaths. The team's conclusion, published in October in the journal Science, is that the majority of transmissions likely occur in residential settings.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Mexico currently has the highest rate of deaths per confirmed COVID-19 cases, at nearly 9%. The rate in Germany is 2.2%, and the number in the United States is 1.7%.

Skiers with protective face masks leave a chairlift in Austria
Traveling and leisure activities have contributed to the spreading of the virusImage: Alex Halada/Getty Images/AFP

New virus variants have sparked new concern. Though they are believed to have originated abroad, "they could become established over here and lead to an increased number of cases within a shorter period of time," Wieler said, as cases have been identified within Germany. 

At a press conference on January 14, Wieler said people continued to circulate and travel far too much. There are reports that officials are considering new measures.