Omicron spike in most vaccinated German state heralds heralds nationwide increase

Experts say the peak in Bremen could herald the direction Germany as a whole will take in the coming days.

The seven-day infection rate in Bremen stood at 800 cases per 100,000 population on Thursday, the highest in Germany and more than double the national rate of 303, according to the Robert Koch Institute for Diseases (RKI) infectious.

“I guess Bremen is just a little further ahead than the other federal states,” said Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for Preventive Research and Epidemiology in Bremen.

He said he expected many German federal states to report infection rates similar to those in Bremen in the coming days.

German leaders are expected to discuss how to respond to the Omicron variant later on Friday, with measures including shortening periods of self-isolation from COVID-19 over fears essential services will shut down amid the number of case increases.

Bremen’s location near the Netherlands and Denmark, where Omicron has already become the dominant variant, could be one of the reasons for the higher infection rate in the state, Zeeb said.

Omicron now accounts for more than 85% of coronavirus infections in Bremen, well above the national figure of around 44%, according to RKI data on Thursday.

Additionally, the city’s success in vaccinating most of its residents early last year could be another reason.

“You may have more vaccine gaps now than others who were a bit later (with the vaccination),” he said.

Studies have shown that protection against Omicron decreases over several months and increases again after a booster injection.

Almost 84% of the population of Bremen, the smallest of the 16 German Länder with less than 700,000 inhabitants, is doubly vaccinated, against a national figure of around 72%. Some 44% received a booster injection, compared to 42% nationally.

Bremen is also a somewhat more accurate representation of the actual numbers in Germany, as coronavirus testing has not slowed there during the holiday season like in many other regions, Zeeb added.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach last week said the number of new cases had been underreported and the actual incidence rate of infections was around two or three times the officially reported figure.

The state government on Thursday introduced new restrictions to fight infections, including requiring a rapid negative test or proof of a recall to enter restaurants or cultural events, in addition to proving dual vaccination.

Despite the record infection rate in Bremen, state hospitals were not as busy as in the first three waves of the pandemic, as patients infected with the new variant arrived with milder symptoms, a said Lukas Fuhrmann, spokesman for the Bremen Health Senate.

Doctors say the situation in hospitals could soon worsen, however, and non-intensive care units were already overloaded with patients with milder pulmonary symptoms.

The incidence of seven-day hospitalizations in the city of Bremen was 13.6 cases per 100,000 population on Thursday, three times the national incidence of around 3.

“The situation is certainly a nightmare,” said Felix Diekmann, medical director of St. Joseph-Stift Hospital in Bremen. While the situation is still manageable, the city may have to send COVID-19 patients to other states if it runs out of its intensive care beds, he said.

(Report by Riham Alkousaa, edited by William Maclean)

By Riham Alkousaa

James R. Rhodes