Germany sees drop in virus cases flatten as variant surges

The head of Germany’s disease control agency is warning that the decline in new coronavirus cases the country had been seeing has leveled off and the share of cases involving more contagious variants is rising

“The decline of recent weeks doesn’t appear to be continuing,” Wieler told reporters in Berlin, noting that in one German state – Thuringia – weekly case numbers are on the rise again.

His agency reported 9,113 new COVID-19 cases in the past day, and 508 more virus-related deaths. Germany has recorded almost 2.4 million confirmed cases and 67,206 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

The number of new cases reported each week per 100,000 inhabitants has fallen to just under 57. Dozens of counties have posted infection rates below 35 per 100,000, which the government has said is the level at which certain lockdown measures could be lifted.

But no German state as a whole has achieved that threshold. Thuringia’s rate currently stands at almost 117 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in a week.

The trend comes as several German states prepare to reopen elementary schools and kindergartens next week, a move criticized by some teachers’ unions that say there are insufficient measures to protect students and staff members.

Wieler stressed that the hygiene policies developed for schools need to be put into practice.

“We have about 8 million students in Germany and almost 700,000 teachers,” he said. “The safety plans that exist (…) must be implemented. That’s the precondition for opening elementary schools and kindergartens.”

German Health Minister Jens Spahn expressed concern about the rising share of more contagious virus variants among known cases.

Earlier this week, he said the variant first detected in Britain accounts for 22% of the cases in Germany, up from 6% two weeks ago.

Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the government wants to double the number of vaccinations in the coming weeks, from about 140,000 per day at present.

Germany has administered almost 3 million first doses since late December. More than 1.5 million people have received their second shot.

Spahn confirmed a report by weekly news magazine Der Spiegel that the government has appointed a special adviser for vaccine production to coordinate with manufacturers and speed up the delivery of additional doses to Germany.

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