The corona numbers in Germany are increasing again. The BA.5 subvariant will soon become dominant in this country. In Portugal it is already and deaths are rising. Virologist Christian Drosten is therefore “a little worried” about further developments. Other experts give the all-clear for the summer.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reports 65,337 new corona infections within one day. In fact, there are certainly more, since many cases are not recorded. More and more of these go back to the omicron subvariant BA.5. In view of its spread, experts expect that the corona virus will not disappear from the scene in the summer. “We are not experiencing an infection-free summer this year, but this is not initially a threat,” said the head of Charité virology, Christian Drosten, at the request of the German Press Agency. In autumn and winter there will probably be a long wave of infections.
The federal government’s experts had outlined three possible scenarios for autumn and winter and called for an adequate legal basis for quick reactions. How exactly the infection situation will develop by then is difficult to estimate, as the epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb said. According to the Robert Koch Institute, the seven-day incidence in Germany has been rising again for a few days. On Saturday morning, the RKI gave it 348.9.
In its Corona weekly report, the authority announced that the sublines BA.4 and BA.5 should account for the majority of the evidence in a few weeks. According to the report, BA.5 had a share of ten percent in a sample from the week before last – the doubling continued from week to week. At BA.4 it is 2.1 percent, which is also about double the previous values.
“In all likelihood, these two sublines will spread more, so that there may be an overall increase in the number of infections and a renewed increase in infection pressure on vulnerable groups of people as early as summer,” warned the RKI. Seasonal effects – which actually slow down the virus a bit – could not compensate for the spread of these variants if rules of conduct are no longer observed.
Virologist looks to Portugal with concern: “Can’t just let Corona run its course”
Drosten said he was “somewhat concerned” about developments in Portugal, where not only the incidence but also the number of deaths increased. “There are no obvious explanations for this, because other European countries also have BA.5 increases without an increase in mortality. In a month we will know if something similar will happen to us.”
From Zeeb’s point of view, the situation in Portugal should also be a warning for Germany. “In neighboring Spain, however, the numbers have not gone so high, which already indicates that regional circumstances, vaccination processes and immunity as well as protective behavior definitely play a role.” In this respect, he does not expect an increase in incidence to the very high values , as achieved in the first omicron wave.
Epidemiologist Markus Scholz is less concerned about BA.5. Due to the corona wave that was only recently overcome due to the BA.2 variant of Omikron, Scholz sees little danger that BA.5 could lead to high incidences in Germany as early as the summer. In an interview with the news portal “Watson”, the scientist from the Institute for Medical Informatics, Statistics and Epidemiology at the University of Leipzig said: “In Germany we have just experienced widespread contamination by the BA.2 variant.” This is the immune protection in the population currently still high.
The data situation is uncertain, but according to current assessments, an infection with BA.2 causes significant protection against BA.5. As always, this protection does not mean 100% security.
According to Scholz, Germany will “probably only be faced with a new corona wave in the autumn if the immune effect has decreased by then.” Compared to Portugal, which is currently going through a BA.5 wave, the situation in this country is different. Because “there was no strong BA.2 wave like ours before, so the immunization is lower there.”
Nevertheless, Scholz warns of a decisive difference between variant BA.5 and variant BA.2, which is currently prevalent in Germany: “It differs (…) in a few mutations, which lead to a reduction in the immune effect.”
The epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs supports this statement: “The mere fact that BA.5 can spread better than its competitors in the human host shows that it is fitter in terms of contagiousness. It is not yet certain whether it can also cause increased and clinically more severe diseases,” says the professor from the Akkon University of Human Sciences in Berlin in an interview with “Watson”.
Regardless of whether there is a summer corona wave or not, preparations for the fall would have to be made anyway, said Bonn virologist Hendrik Streeck on ARD. Politicians have many protective instruments such as vaccination and masks at hand.
In his own words, Drosten expects “another long-lasting wave of infections” in autumn and winter, with a particularly large number of lost working days as a result if no interventions have taken place in the meantime.
There are two reasons for this: “Firstly, the majority of the population will lose transmission protection by autumn, especially since the variants that are now circulating are even more transmissible. Secondly, because of the vaccination success achieved, politicians will initially use fewer controls.”
Drosten assumes that there will be many cases by October at the latest. Unlike a severe flu epidemic, this could last until March and put a strain on personnel-sensitive areas. “It will be difficult to mitigate this with a vaccination campaign alone,” explained the virologist. Those who are not yet vaccinated should “once again be encouraged to do so”. Drosten advised older people and people who belong to a risk group to talk to their doctor about a refresher.
Epidemiologist Ulrichs also emphasized in an interview with “Watson”: “A timely vaccination campaign is better than foreclosure, also including the omicron-specific vaccine that will be available from autumn.”
Lauterbach expects vaccines adapted to the Omicron variants in the fall. He doesn’t expect it until September at the earliest, said the SPD politician on Thursday on Deutschlandfunk. This is being worked on intensively. There is promising data from Moderna, and they are also in contact with Biontech.
The company Moderna presented the first data on the effectiveness of its adapted corona vaccine on Wednesday. “mRNA-1273.214”, as the booster is called, is a combination of the original Moderna vaccine Spikevax and a vaccine candidate specially tailored to the omicron variant. In the total of 437 subjects in the clinical study who had received the new preparation as a second booster, the scientists found significantly more neutralizing antibodies after one month than after a booster vaccination with the conventional preparation, especially against the omicron variant. The vaccination is well tolerated, side effects correspond to those after the conventional booster.