Berlin Despite increasing numbers of corona infections, the current overall situation in Germany is not getting worse.
Recent increases in infection rates are making politicians and some experts nervous. But the situation in German hospitals is still comparatively relaxed. Only a few people infected with corona in Germany still require treatment, and there are hardly any deaths. How does that fit in with the increased number of cases? It is clear that the current situation must be assessed in a different way to a few months ago.
- Current situation
According to the latest data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), around 9200 people were reported as infected in the week from 17 to 23 August - almost four times as many as six weeks beforehand. Of those infected - for whom information on their treatment status was available (6981) - 323 had to be hospitalised. Six weeks ago, the number was only slightly lower. According to the Intensive Care Register of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (Divi), around 240 patients are currently receiving intensive care in Germany; this number has also remained fairly stable despite the rising number of infections. In mid-April, there were still more than 2000 corona patients in intensive care.
- Infected people are younger
Age could be a reason to explain why comparatively few infected people currently have severe disease progression. According to the RKI report, the average age of people tested positive is currently around 32 years. In mid-April it was still around 50 years old. The RKI also points out that in recent weeks the proportion of ten to 30-year-olds in particular has increased. Younger people are still coping better with the infection than older people, explains virologist Ulf Dittmer from the University Hospital in Essen. In addition, they generally do not have any serious pre-existing conditions that could lead to severe progression of the disease. While only about five percent of those infected had to be admitted to hospital in the week from 17 to 23 August, the figure was about 20 percent in mid-April. According to Dittmer, young people in particular become infected more frequently because they no longer adhere so strictly to hygiene rules. "You can't blame them for that. Biology has not provided for young people to keep their distance," says Dittmer. But it could also be that younger people are tested more often, in which case you will automatically find more infections.
- Better treatment
According to Dittmer, the treatment options have also improved. For example, anti-viral drugs like Remdesivir are now used earlier. In addition, many trials have been published in recent months about how to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
- Virus is less serious?
A theory on the low proportion of seriously ill patients says that the virus may have developed further and no longer leads to serious disease progression as often. Richard Neher from the University of Basel contradicts this. The head of the research group on the evolution of viruses and bacteria says that coronavirus has not become any less serious. Although it has undergone mutations similar to other viruses, "there is no mutation that has become established throughout Europe," says Neher. "So the virus has not significantly changed between March and now".
- More testing
The total number of tests is continually increasing. Capacities for testing have been expanded during the past months. Most recently, according to the RKI, almost one million people were tested in one week. By comparison, in mid-April the number was still well below 500,000, and the proportion of positive tests has fallen from around eight percent to less than one percent since the beginning of April. "We are testing more and finding more asymptomatic people without any disease at all," explains Dittmer from the University Hospital Essen. This could also be a reason for the increase in new infections with a small number of people with severe disease progression. In addition, it is unclear how many non-infected people are nevertheless affected by a corona test - in other words, the rate of false positive results among the diagnoses is currently unknown.
- Better prepared
A collapse of the health care system is not to be expected, says Uwe Janssens, president of the Divi. "We are clearly better prepared." The doctors have learned "enormously" in the past few months and are equipped with sufficient protective material. "The COVID-19 areas in the hospital are clearly separated, staff can now routinely handle suspected cases and patients in the individual areas. In the event of an emergency, the hospitals are always able to throw the switch and start corona operations. Germany "has absolutely enough" intensive care beds. At the moment there are about 9000 free beds nationwide.
(Original text: Esra Ayari (dpa), Translation: Caroline Kusch)