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Germany Covid: RKI chief says B117 to dominate new cases

March 5, 2021

Lothar Wieler called for caution over the highly contagious B117 variant. The strain makes up more than 40% of new cases, compared to about 6% of cases four weeks ago, he said.

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's Robert Koch Institute, addresses a new conference in Berlin
Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's Robert Koch Institute, addresses a new conference in BerlinImage: Tobias Schwarz/AP/picture alliance

The UK coronavirus variant, also known as B117, could become the predominant strain in Germany if preventive measures aren't taken, health officials said on Friday.

"B117 will soon be the predominant variant in Germany and then it will be even more difficult to keep the virus in check," Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institut (RKI) told reporters. "B117 is more contagious and even more dangerous in all age groups."

The new variant makes up more than 40% of new coronavirus cases in Germany, compared to about 6% of cases four weeks ago, according to Wieler.

The statement came as German Health Minister Jens Spahn once again urged caution in the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Spahn also touted pulling an "emergency break" if cases were to rise sharply. Such a break would temporarily halt the easing of restrictions, which have been part of a lockdown implemented in November.

'We are in a third wave'

Rapid test roll-out

In addition to warnings over the new variant, Spahn offered new updates on the distribution of free rapid coronavirus tests, saying that the tests would be available to all citizens starting next week.

"There are more than enough of these rapid tests," he said.

Self-tests for home use are now entering the market, and manufacturers have indicated that they can produce 20 million per week, he added.

Spahn also offered to act as a middle man, coordinating exchanges between test manufacturers and federal states. Despite the wider availability of rapid tests, however, he cautioned that citizens should still pay attention to social distancing and mask-wearing.

Calls to honor vaccine contracts

The health minister added that drug manufacturers should honor vaccine supply contracts with Europe, and said he had not yet been able to speak to his Italian counterpart about a decision made by Italy to block a shipment of AstraZeneca's vaccine to Australia.

"As of today, we have not had the reason not to authorize the delivery of vaccines to other parts of the world," Spahn said, adding that he would always want to coordinate any approach at a European level.

Friday's news conference came on the heels of a plan announced Wednesday evening, to gradually ease coronavirus-related restrictions in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the five-step plan following a meeting with the 16 state premiers this week.

Under it, each step will be taken every 14 days, as long as regional infection numbers are stable or reduced, while easing will be temporarily halted if regions see three consecutive days with an incidence rate above 100 per 100,000 people per week.

Germany has recorded nearly 2.5 million cases and over 71,500 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

lc, jm/msh (dpa, Reuters)