German Covid cases are rising ‘exponentially’ — and its vaccine pause could make things worse

It’s no secret that Germany has been seeing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks but one leading health expert in the country is now warning of “exponential growth” in the number of infections.

This comes at a time when the country has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine.

Epidemiologist Dirk Brockmann, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, said that a recent loosening of Covid restrictions has allowed a more virulent variant of the virus, first discovered in the U.K. late last year, to spread rapidly.

“We are exactly on the flank of the third wave. That can no longer be disputed. And, at this point, we have eased the restrictions and that is speeding up the exponential growth,” Brockmann told German broadcaster ARD on Tuesday.

“It has been totally irrational to loosen up here. It’s just fueling this exponential growth,” he said.

Germany was lauded for its initial response to the pandemic, managing to keep cases lower by an effective track and tracing regime, and keeping the death rate lower thanks to its modern hospital infrastructure.

But in recent months, over winter and faced with new more virulent variants of the virus, it has appeared to struggle to contain infections. The EU’s sluggish vaccine rollout has not helped matters, with the bloc facing criticism for its slower procurement and deployment of vaccines. Germany’s vaccination rollout has faced several hurdles, frustrating officials and health experts in the country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders agreed earlier this month to a gradual easing of restrictions along with an “emergency brake” that would allow the authorities to reverse course if the number of infections rises above 100 per 100,000 on three consecutive days.

The emergency brake, the government said, had been envisaged “in the event that we experience exponential growth” of cases. Merkel and regional leaders are expected to review the measures on March 22 where they will decide whether to proceed to the next step of reopening, or not.

The number of cases per 100,000 reported on Tuesday was 83.7, up from 68 a week ago, and the RKI has said that metric could reach 200 by the middle of next month, Reuters noted in a report Tuesday.

Germany’s lockdown is currently due to run to at least March 28 but some restrictions have already been eased, with schools, daycare and hairdressers reopening at the start of the month.

Then bookstores and florists were allowed to reopen and some museums too a week ago. Regional rules can vary, however, with states granted discretion over how and when they reopen given case rates.

On March 22, Germany’s five-point plan to reopen had envisaged that some outdoor dining venues, theaters, and cinemas could reopen. But the rising number of infections could derail that timetable.

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