Coronavirus: What you need to know about the summer wave

Corona Virus
BA.5 Increasing accidents: What you need to know about the summer wave

Due to the high level of infection of the BA.5 variant of the coronavirus, unlike in previous years, it is likely that there will be a large number of infections permanently this summer as well.

© Bernd Vostnik / dpa

No respite in the summer: The specially contagious BA.5 variant of the coronavirus ensures that accidents come back again. “The summer wave is becoming a reality,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warns. What does that mean for the coming months?

The summer of 2020 and 2021 provided a sigh of relief in the Corona pandemic. But this year’s infection rate is getting worse despite the warm season. Infection cases are on the rise, and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is warning of the growing infection pressure. “Unfortunately, the declared summer wave has become a reality,” Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach also stated in an interview with the Rheinische Post. What does that mean for the coming months?

Why are the numbers going up again?

According to experts, the rising numbers despite the mild temperatures — the nationwide seven-day infection rate was 472.4 on Wednesday morning and thus double what it was a week ago — are due to many reasons. On the other hand, there is the omicron subtype BA.5, which has recently been steadily increasing in Germany. “The BA.5 sub variant is considered to be more contagious than all of the previous variants, so it can also spread under the adverse conditions of the virus in the summer,” explains epidemiologist Timo Ulrichs of the Akkon University of Human Sciences in Berlin. According to the current state of knowledge, BA.5 can also escape the immune system, even if it already has contact with omicron variants, warns Ulrichs. Even fully vaccinated people are not immune to infection. “This means that a large number of hosts are eligible for deployment.”

After waves in countries like Portugal, many experts also expect BA.5 to become dominant soon. According to RKI’s latest weekly report, BA.5 is about ten percent according to the latest data two weeks ago – but it should now be much higher, estimates General Secretary of the German Society of Immunology, Carsten Watzl.

On the other hand, there is a general change in the behavior of many people. Against the backdrop of falling coronavirus restrictions, Hajo Zeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen points to greater movement and more contact – and with significantly less protective behavior such as wearing a mask. Vaccination, which is too old for many for many, is also playing a role in increasing prevalence again: “Immunity has decreased on average, but there is still clear protection against serious diseases,” Zip says.

How can the summer wave of the Corona virus end?

Immunologist Watzel is sure: there will be no single-digit accidents like last summer this year. “As can currently be seen, accidents will be in the hundreds. Omicron is very contagious for that.” It is assumed that about half of the population is not yet infected with omicron. “Since vaccination does not protect well against pure infection, the virus still has sufficient potential to infect people.”

It is currently difficult to estimate whether BA.5 will cause more than 1,000 occurrences. “But there is potential for a summer wave,” Watzel says. Nor does Zip want to commit himself to how high the summer wave he fears is going to rise. The numbers are not necessarily as high as in Portugal, where the highest accidents are currently reported in Europe.

Can such a wave be slowed down somehow?

Only with quick and strict procedures, experts say. “In my view, it’s difficult to intervene at the moment, except with very strict measures,” says Theeb. In particular, high-risk groups such as the elderly should be actively encouraged to take booster vaccines in order to improve their protection. Health Minister Lauterbach also recommended this: “I therefore strongly recommend that the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses get their vaccinations again.” This does not necessarily prevent infection, but it does prevent serious diseases.

Specifically, Ulrichs sees reintroducing protective measures such as wearing masks across the board as the only way to slow the current trend. Against this background, immunologist Watzel notes that there are currently no legal possibilities to take appropriate measures.

How dramatic is the current increase?

Even if the numbers call for vigilance, experts see no reason to panic. Intensive care doctor Stefan Kluge from the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf reports a “moderate” increase in the number of infections. “In the current situation, it has to be about disease prevention and not so much pure infection,” Watzl says. “That’s why the summer wave isn’t worrisome at first.” However, it is important to continue to protect those who are particularly vulnerable.

Zipp says there will be more infections for the foreseeable future, but because BA.5 is clinically similar to previous omicron variants according to the current state of knowledge, it should remain mostly mild. Overall, there could be more hospitalizations and deaths if the number of infections increases dramatically, he thinks – but in his view there is no imminent burden on the health care system.

Looking at the regular and intensive care units, Kluge also found that due to the mild trajectory caused by the omicron sublines, a significant burden on the health system is somewhat unlikely in the summer. However, having so many positive patients also means a significant additional burden on the regular wards – especially for the nursing staff. Watzl also points out the potential failures of companies due to many minor injuries.

What does this mean for the citizen sluggishness or caution?

For individual behavior, experts are now calling for personal responsibility again. Theeb expects in the coming weeks that the number of infections will rise and fall, but then the number of infections will rise again from autumn and winter. Therefore, it should be clear that “Corona is among us, and there is no security there,” stresses Theeb. Since blanket regulations have largely been scrapped, everyone should now think about protecting with masks as well as keeping vaccination protection up to date, even in situations where there are many people, especially indoors and on public transport. “More caution would be helpful,” says Ulrichs.

King
DPA

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