BERLIN (dpa-AFX) – Summer 2020 and 2021 brought relief from the crown pandemic. This year, however, the recent worsening of the infection process has worried many. The incidence is increasing, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) warns of the increasing pressure on infections. Here’s how experts in science and medicine view the third Corona summer:
Why are the numbers rising again?
Numbers rising despite mild temperatures – the country’s seven-day incidence jumped to 447.3 on Tuesday from 331.8 the day before – experts say it has several reasons. On the one hand, there is the subtype BA.5 omicron, which has recently been steadily increasing in Germany. “The BA.5 sub-option is even more contagious than all previous variants, so it can also spread in summer under unfavorable conditions for the virus,” explains epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs of Akkon University of Human Sciences in Berlin. According to the current state of knowledge, BA.5 may also escape the immune system, even if it has already been exposed to omicron varieties, warns Ulrichs. Even fully vaccinated people are not immune to infection. “This means that a large number of hosts qualify for propagation.”
After waves in countries like Portugal, many experts also expect BA.5 to become dominant soon. According to the last weekly RKI report, the share of BA.5 is around ten percent according to the latest data two weeks ago – but it should be much higher now, estimates the secretary general of the German Society of Immunology Carsten Watzl.
On the other hand, there is a general change in the behavior of many people. Hajo Zeeb z LeibnizThe Bremen Institute for Research on Prevention and Epidemiology points to greater mobility and more contacts against the backdrop of fallen crown restrictions – and with much less protective behavior such as wearing a mask. Vaccination, long in the past for many, also plays a role in this increasing spread: “Immunity has decreased on average, but there should still be clear protection against serious diseases,” says Zeeb.
Is there a real wave of early summer – and how could it have happened?
The immunologist Watzl is sure: there will be no single-digit cases like last summer this year. “As you can see now, the incidence will be in the hundreds. Omicron is too contagious for that. ” It assumes that about half of the population has not yet been infected with omicron. “Since vaccination does not protect so well against pure infection, the virus still has enough potential to infect humans.”
It is currently difficult to estimate whether BA.5 will cause morbidity in excess of 1000. “But there is a possibility of a summer wave,” Watzl said. Zeeb also refuses to decide how high the fearsome tide of early summer can rise. The numbers are not necessarily as high as in Portugal, which currently has by far the highest incidence in Europe.
Can such a wave be slowed down somehow?
Experts say only with quick, harsh measures. “From my point of view, it is almost impossible to intervene right now, except in very drastic measures,” says Zeeb. In particular, risk groups such as the elderly should be actively encouraged to receive a booster vaccination to optimize their protection. Ulrichs in particular sees the re-introduction of protective measures, such as wearing masks around the world, as the only way to slow down the current trend. Against this background, the immunologist Watzl points out, however, that there is currently no legal possibility to take appropriate action.
How dramatic is the current growth?
Even when the numbers require vigilance, experts see no reason to panic. Intensive care physician Stefan Kluge from the University Hospital of Hamburg-Eppendorf is currently talking about a “moderate” increase in infections. “In the current situation, it is about disease prevention, not pure infection. Therefore, at first the summer wave is not worrying, ”says Watzl. Nevertheless, it is important to continue to protect vulnerable people.
Zeeb says there will be more infections in the foreseeable future, but since BA.5 is clinically similar to previous omicron variants by the current state of the art, it should remain mild for the most part. All in all, there could be a little more hospitalizations and deaths if the number of infections rises significantly, he thinks – but there is no immediate overload on the healthcare system, he says.
Regarding normal and intensive care units, Kluge also states that due to the rather mild course of omicron sublines, a heavy burden on the healthcare system is unlikely to occur during the summer. Nevertheless, the large number of positive patients also means a significant additional burden for normal wards – especially for the nursing staff. Watzl also addresses possible failures in businesses caused by multiple minor infections.
What does this mean for me personally: carelessness or caution?
Considering individual behavior, experts again call for personal responsibility. In the coming weeks, Zeeb expects the number of infections to go up and down, but then the number of infections will rise again from fall and winter. So it has to be clear that “Corona is with us, there is no security there,” emphasizes Zeeb. With comprehensive regulations largely eliminated, everyone now has to think about mask protection as well as updating vaccine protection, even in multi-person situations, especially indoors and in public transport. Ulrichs says: “A little more caution would be helpful.”
/ jjk / DP / us