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Germany prepares for omicron wave to worsen

January 21, 2022

Daily case counts in Germany could be in the hundreds of thousands by mid-February, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has said. State and national leaders meet next week to discuss how they should move forward.

Medical staff assist a patient infected with coronavirus in a COVID-19 intensive care unit
Pressure on intensive care units has fallen, but high infection rates could see it rise againImage: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

Germany's daily infection rate hit a new record on Friday, with Health Minister Karl Lauterbach saying he expects case rates to soar in the coming weeks with the spread of the omicron variant.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the public health authority for disease control, reported 140,160 new cases of coronavirus on Friday — 47,937 more cases than last Friday.

There were 1,116,100 current active cases at the time of reporting, with more than 8.46 million infections reported since the pandemic began.

Lauterbach — a trained epidemiologist — has predicted several hundred thousand new coronavirus infections per day by mid-February. 

In one prediction, reported by the Reuters news agency from a virtual meeting with state leaders, Lauterbach said the number could be as high as 600,000 per day if booster vaccines failed to have the desired effect. 

The German government wants to prepare for the rapid growth in numbers with more carefully targeted testing, tracking and tracing, as well as modified quarantine rules.

"We have to reckon with these increasing numbers of infections and must prepare for it organizationally," the dpa news agency quoted a spokesman for Lauterbach saying on Friday.

Soaring case numbers hit employers

Ahead of a meeting of state premiers and the federal government to discuss coronavirus measures on Monday, the spokesman warned that bottlenecks in PCR testing should be prevented and resources prioritized for health care, utilities and emergency services.

Even with reduced quarantine times for contacts of infected people, the current high case rate threatens to cripple industry and critical infrastructure.

Sectors such as trucking are already dealing with high staff absences. "The situation is very tense, because we are missing more and more drivers," Dirk Engelhardt, board spokesman for the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL), told the Reuters news agency.

The nationwide seven-day incidence — an average of how many people test positive per 100,000 population — rose to 706.3 on Friday from 638.8 on the previous day, marking a new record.

The RKI reported that 170 people had died in connection with the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 116,485.

Fears remain for intensive units

For the time being, the strain on intensive care units has reduced, thought to be because of a relatively milder course of the disease among those infected with the omicron strain.

Lauterbach has said he expects pressures to rise again in the coming weeks because of the sheer number of infections. The RKI gave a similar warning in its weekly report on Thursday.

COVID: How divisive are vaccine mandates?

Omicron puts pressure on general wards

According to the German Hospital Association (DKG), the burden on general wards has massively increased — particularly in regions with high omicron infection figures. 

"Looking at the figures, the burden in intensive care units seems to be decreasing, but the burden in normal wards remains high or is even increasing significantly," DKG head Gerald Gass told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland stable of newspapers.

Meanwhile, the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi) has called for the rapid introduction of a general vaccination mandate.

"There is no alternative to compulsory vaccination for adults if we are to put the pandemic behind us in the long term," Divi President Gernot Marx told RND. "Without a higher vaccination rate, we will remain stuck in a kind of permanent loop." 

Marx said mandatory vaccination would effectively prevent further outbreak waves and pave a way out of the pandemic. "We can't risk another wave of numerous severe Covid 19 outbreaks every winter season," he said.

rc/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)