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"Virus got a boost’': Concern about coronavirus variants in Germany

"Virus got a boost’' : Concern about coronavirus variants in Germany

Before new federal and state level discussions on the lockdown, Germany is monitoring the virus variants with concern. Recently, there has been an increased focus on detecting them. Now the first statistics have become available.

The more infectious coronavirus variants are likely to play an increasingly important role in Germany, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). So far, however, they have not yet dominated the pattern of infections, as RKI head Lothar Wieler said in Berlin.

In Germany, the variant B.1.1.7 discovered in Great Britain is currently found in just under six percent of cases, he said. It has now been detected in 13 of the 16 German states, he said. "The situation is far from under control," Wieler added. Overall, he said, the variants have made the coronavirus more dangerous. "The virus is not yet tired, on the contrary, it just got another boost," he said.

In recent days, information from the RKI on the spread of the variants has been awaited with growing interest. The federal and state governments are slated to discuss possible easing of coronavirus measures next week. The question of how widespread the variants are in Germany had been unanswered until now.

The RKI has now published a report on this. It states that "according to the data available so far, the proportion of the more infectious variants has increased in recent weeks compared with the previous year". While the data could not yet provide a statistically conclusive finding about the incidence rate, it shows an increase in the proportion of variant B.1.1.7 in the total number of samples tested. "Thus, one can conclude that there is an increasing prevalence of this variant.”

German Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said, "Even though there are still more tough weeks ahead, we are on our way out of the pandemic." But he also said, "If we were to give these mutations the opportunity to spread, we risk a renewed increase in the number of infections.”

As soon as it is possible to open up, this should first be done in daycare centers and schools. The infection rate is currently falling overall, Spahn said, and this is also the case in Portugal and Ireland.

"We can't let our guard down now because these variants continue to spread." For example, he said, an explosive situation has now arisen in Tyrol as a result of negligence. "This is an occurrence that could have been avoided if there were not so many thousands of people skiing there.”

On the question of the effectiveness of the vaccines against the variants, the president of the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), Klaus Cichutek, said that there were "indications that one can manage the UK variant quite well, with the South Africa and Brazil variants it is more difficult". However, widespread vaccinations also help against the variants.

Spahn emphasized, "We now have the means to defeat the virus - not immediately, but in the course of the year." In the meantime, he said, nearly three million vaccine doses have been administered, and more than 800,000 citizens have already received the second vaccination dose.

Nearly 80 percent of nursing home residents have already received a first vaccination. Around the end of the first quarter, people in the first vaccination group, those over 80 and those in nursing homes, should have been vaccinated.

"By utilizing these vaccines, we truly have a collective opportunity to effectively limit the pandemic." Every individual should take advantage of protection through vaccination as soon as it is offered - and as soon as possible, he said. "For themselves, their own family, but also people in their immediate surroundings and not least of all our society, for the good of this society."

Recently, cases and outbreaks of coronavirus variants have become known because of increased testing for the mutations in many regions of Germany. A hospital in Berlin was under quarantine for about a week and a half because of numerous cases of B.1.1.7. In the UK, the B.1.1.7 variant is now found in the most samples tested. The first detection of the variant in the UK dates back to September.

Variants circulating in South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil are also considered to be more easily transmissible. But it's not just that: recovered people could apparently become infected again.

One vaccine manufacturer has already announced plans to develop a booster.

"At the moment, there is no viable evidence that the variants are more dangerous - in the sense of being more pathogenic or deadly," the president of the Society for Virology, Ralf Bartenschlager, recently told dpa. In RNA viruses such as Sars-CoV-2, the genome is constantly changing. Some variants give the virus an advantage and prevail over old forms.

Compared to countries such as Great Britain and Denmark, until recently there has been little search for variants in Germany using gene analyses (sequencing).

(Orig. text: dpa / Translation: Carol Kloeppel)