Coronavirus could spread ‘uncontrollably,’ Germany warns

A medic administers a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test on a motorist at a drive-thru coronavirus testing center at the Talavera car park in Wuerzburg, Germany, on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

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Germany has issued a stark warning over the spread of the coronavirus, with top health officials sounding the alarm over potential further outbreaks in the country.

“The current situation worries me a lot. We don’t know how things will develop over the next few weeks,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, said on Thursday morning.

“It’s possible that we will see more than 10,000 new cases a day. It’s possible that the virus spreads uncontrollably,” he said, in comments translated by Reuters. He added that only 8% of cases currently seen in Germany were imported from overseas.

Wieler was speaking at a press conference with German Health Minister Jens Spahn who said the situation was worrying but not as bad as earlier in the year, despite a sharp rise in cases. 

Germany has been seen as a poster-child for its response to the initial coronavirus outbreak, having implemented a robust testing regime earlier on, as well as tracking and tracing cases effectively. It’s modern health care infrastructure helped to keep deaths relatively low.

While Germany has reported 311,503 cases, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, and a similar number to Italy where the virus first emerged in Europe in February, it has reported far fewer deaths, with the tally still under 10,000. In recent weeks it has seen an increase in the number of new daily infections.

On Thursday, it reported 4,058 new cases, with urban centers Berlin, Munich and Hamburg particular hotspots. Germany has moved to increase restrictions in such areas, with a curfew put on hospitality venues like bars and restaurants to curb the spread.

Wieler warned against complacency, however, saying that while Germany “got through the summer comparatively well” that did not mean the epidemiological situation wasn’t dangerous.

“Some claim that this shows that the virus is not that dangerous after all — that is a fallacy. Not that many people died because we took measures and kept to them,” the RKI tweeted, quoting Wieler.

The RKI updated its risk assessment of the situation in Germany and worldwide Wednesday, saying it was “a very dynamic and serious situation.”

“The number of cases continues to increase worldwide. The number of newly submitted cases in Germany declined from around mid-March to early July. Since the end of July, significantly more cases have been transmitted again, many of them initially related to travel. Since the end of August (week 35), more transmissions have been observed in Germany,” the RKI noted.

“A continuous increase in transmissions in the population in Germany can currently be observed. The dynamic is increasing in almost all regions,” it said, adding that outbreaks were particularly connected to celebrations with family and friends, group events, and old people’s and nursing homes.

The RKI continues to rate the risk to the health of the German population as “high,” and “very high” for particular at-risk groups. 

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