German Covid rates reach unseen heights in latest phase of the pandemic

There were almost 300,000 new infections but leaders believe hospital system is not threatened

Medical workers in a Covid-19 test centre in Frankfurt. AP

Germany’s Covid-19 infection rates have reached record highs but the country appears to be staying on track to lifting restrictions at the weekend, rather than tightening lockdown orders.

Germany has seen six successive days of infection highs, raising some alarm before plans to drop almost all the remaining curbs.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz is holding talks on Thursday with regional leaders on pandemic strategy.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has repeatedly spoken against complacency, and said on Sunday the outbreak could cause “many deaths”.

Among the regional leaders, there appears little appetite to reinstate national lockdowns or tighter restrictions as long as hospitalisation rates are manageable.

“The time has come to pull back restrictions, but the states unanimously want basic protection,” premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wuest, said.

The government should establish clear rules for a “hot spot” and when and how that would trigger renewed restrictions, he said.

Germany began easing Covid-19 curbs last month and most of the remaining measures are due to expire on Sunday.

Some states, including the capital Berlin, said they will keep restrictions in place until the end of this month.

In the 24 hours through to early Thursday, there were almost 300,000 new infections, the most since the pandemic began two years ago, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people has been climbing since the beginning of this month and is now at 1,651.4, the RKI said.

Germany has not experienced the steep drop in transmission seen in other countries, such as the UK and the US.

Daily deaths from Covid-19 are still around 250 to 300 people, with another 278 reported on Thursday.

At the same time, the number of Covid-19 cases in intensive care units is at less than half the level at the end of last year.

The rising infection numbers are partly due to the spread of the highly infectious - but apparently less deadly - BA. 2 subvariant of the omicron strain. It now accounts for about half the Covid-19 cases in Germany, according to the RKI.

Germany’s vaccination campaign has ground to a halt in recent months, and lawmakers in the Bundestag on Thursday will debate proposals for introducing mandatory Covid-19 shots.

Updated: March 17, 2022, 10:25 AM