It is probably the new normal for someone to worry about every public appearance in Corona times. It is mostly numbers or the behavior of individual people that turn health experts and politicians into reminders and warnings. One requires the other. It was the same on Thursday when this number popped up early in the morning: 4058 new corona infections, reported in a single day. That is around 1200 more cases than were sent to the Robert Koch Institute the day before. What has happened there? Is Germany now catching a second wave of pandemics?
There is no clear answer to these questions. The approximately 4,000 cases could be an outlier, maybe there were delays in reporting, technical problems. Or last weekend there were celebrations or other gatherings in several places in Germany that turned into super spreading events. If such outbreaks are localized and contained quickly, the number of cases can quickly go down again. Nevertheless, one thing has long been clear: for the whole of September, the weekly average new infections were well above the numbers from the summer months – the curve goes up.
Returning travelers make up only eight percent of all new infections
To understand this dynamic, it is important to realize that the numbers now published do not reflect the current situation. The doctor and author Philipp S. Holstein described this vividly: “A Porsche is measured at 33 kilometers per hour two meters after the start of Spielstrasse. 33 is really no drama. If the accelerator is fully depressed at that point, however, it will probably be four Seconds later a speed of 100 kilometers per hour will be reached. And that is dramatically dangerous for the children. “
Transferred to the infection curve, this means: The Coronaporsche began its acceleration journey more than two weeks ago. Nobody knows how fast it is currently driving. At that time, things were evidently particularly rapid in Berlin and Bremen, where the number of positive tests has increased particularly sharply since then. But it’s not just individual hotspots where private celebrations in particular have become super-spreading events, such as a wedding in Hamm. The number of reported Corona cases is actually increasing across the board. “There are minor outbreaks in workplaces, but also again in old people’s and nursing homes and in hospitals,” explains RKI President Lothar Wieler. Returning travelers currently only make up eight percent of all new infections, so the infection process is again taking place within Germany. On the other hand, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn, there are no outbreaks when shopping or visiting the hairdresser, and according to the current state of knowledge, a trip by bus or train is not particularly risky.
A look at the numbers also shows: the increase in new infections cannot be explained by increased testing. The rate of positive tests has also climbed in the past few weeks and was most recently 1.64 percent. This value is still very low compared to other countries that are also testing extensively. In Germany, too, there were weeks in the spring in which around every tenth test was positive – but at that time mainly people who showed symptoms were tested. Many asymptomatically infected people were not recorded at all. It is now clear, however, that you can pass the virus on if you don’t get sick yourself.
But how meaningful is a look at the number of infections alone? Here, too, the following applies: The current data can only be an indication of what can follow at intervals of one to two weeks. The more people become infected now, the greater the number will be who will need hospital treatment. In the past four weeks, the number of corona patients in the intensive care unit has already doubled – it is currently 470. However, it takes around two weeks for someone to show symptoms after an infection and become so seriously ill that they have to go to an intensive care unit . For the 4,000 cases that have now been reported, little can be said about the course of the disease at the moment.
However, one thing can already be seen from the numbers: While the infection process in the summer was for a long time mainly driven by young people who are less likely to get seriously ill with Covid-19, the proportion of the particularly vulnerable age group over 60 years has increased from seven to 16 percent since August gone up. So it cannot be prevented that the virus is carried from the younger to the older population. “The 20-year-old, who does not even know that he is infected, then visits his grandma or works in a hospital”, describes Health Minister Jens Spahn.
“It is possible that we are seeing more than 10,000 new cases a day.”
A look at France, where the curve of new infections rose dramatically a month ago, shows impressively: After the increase in new infections, the intensive care units only fill up with a delay of a few weeks, and finally the number of Covid-19 deaths is rising again. This is what RKI President Wieler warns of: “It is possible that we will see more than 10,000 new cases per day and that the virus will spread uncontrollably.” However, when this point will be reached is difficult to predict. Although the current figures suggest exponential growth, it is not so easy to make a forecast of the situation we will find ourselves in a few months’ time.
The spread of the virus could be slowed down with regional and targeted measures. If certain limit values are exceeded, bars and shops have to close earlier, group sizes are restricted – and the population is also more cautious. Because fighting pandemics becomes more and more difficult the more new infections there are. The central building blocks of the German anti-corona strategy are tests, contact tracking and quarantine to prevent further infection. A strategy that works well when the number of infections is low, but can quickly reach its capacity limits when the pandemic grows exponentially. Once these limits are exceeded, there is a risk of the virus spreading uncontrollably.