Health

Omicron spike in most vaccinated German state heralds nationwide surge

Experts say that the spike in Bremen could herald where
Germany as a whole is heading in the coming days.

The seven-day infection rate in Bremen stood at 800 cases
per 100,000 residents on Thursday, the highest in Germany and more than double
the national rate of 303, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for
infectious diseases.

“I assume that Bremen is just a little further ahead
than other federal states,” said Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for
Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen.

He said he expected many of Germany’s federal states to report
infection rates similar to Bremen in the coming days.

Germany’s leaders are set to discuss how to respond to the
omicron variant later on Friday, with measures including shortening COVID-19
self-isolation periods over fears that critical services could grind to a halt
as case numbers spike.

Bremen’s location near the Netherlands and Denmark, where
omicron has already become the dominant variant, could be one reason for the
higher infection rate in the state, Zeeb said.

Omicron now accounts for more than 85% of coronavirus
infections in Bremen, well above the national figure of around 44%, according
to data from the RKI on Thursday.

Also, the city’s success in inoculating most of its
residents early last year could be another reason.

“You have possibly now more of a vaccine gap than
others who were a bit later (with the vaccination),” he said.

Studies have shown that protection against omicron wanes
over the course of several months and increases again following a booster shot.

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Close to 84% of the population in Bremen, the smallest of
Germany’s 16 federal states with fewer than 700,000 people, are
double-vaccinated, compared with a national figure of around 72%. Some 44% have
received a booster shot, compared with 42% nationally.

Bremen is also a somewhat more accurate representation of
the actual figures in Germany because coronavirus testing there did not slow
during the holiday season as it did in many other regions, Zeeb added.

Last week, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the
number of new cases had been under-reported and the actual incidence rate of
infections was about two or three times higher than the officially reported
figure.

The state’s government on Thursday introduced further
restrictions to curb infections, including requiring a negative rapid test or
proof of a booster shot to enter restaurants or cultural events, in addition to
proving double-vaccination.

Despite the record infection rate in Bremen, the state’s
hospitals were not as burdened as they were in the first three waves of the
pandemic as patients infected with the new variant were coming in with milder
symptoms, said Lukas Fuhrmann, spokesperson for Bremen’s health senate.

Doctors say the situation in hospitals could however soon
worsen and that non-intensive care units were already overburdened with
patients with milder lung symptoms.

The city of Bremen’s seven-day hospitalisation incidence was
13.6 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, three times the national incidence
of around 3.

“The situation is certainly a nightmare,” said
Felix Diekmann, the medical director at St. Joseph-Stift hospital in Bremen.
Although the situation is still manageable, the city might have to send
COVID-19 patients to other states if it runs out of its intensive care beds, he
said.

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