A healthcare worker will take care of a Covid 19 patient in the intensive care unit of the Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.
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It's no secret that Germany has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, but a leading health expert in the country is now warning of an "exponential growth" in the number of infections.
It does so at a time when the country has stopped using the AstraZeneca University of Oxford's coronavirus vaccine.
Epidemiologist Dirk Brockmann, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, said a recent relaxation of Covid restrictions has allowed a faster spread of a more virulent variant of the virus that was discovered in the UK late last year.
"We are right on the flank of the third wave. That can no longer be disputed. And at this point in time we relaxed the restrictions and that accelerates the exponential growth," Brockmann told the German ARD on Tuesday.
"It was completely irrational to relax here. It just powers this exponential growth," he said.
Germany has been praised for its initial response to the pandemic, which has managed to lower cases through an effective track & tracing regime and keep the death rate lower thanks to its modern hospital infrastructure.
But over the past few months, over the winter, and with new, more virulent variants of the virus, it has seemed difficult to contain infections. The slow adoption of vaccines in the EU has not helped. The block has been criticized for its slower procurement and slower use of vaccines. The introduction of vaccinations in Germany faced several hurdles that frustrated officials and health professionals in the country.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and heads of state agreed earlier this month to gradually ease restrictions and an "emergency brake" that would allow authorities to reverse course if the number of infections rises above 100 per 100,000 for three consecutive days.
According to the government, the emergency brake is provided "in the event of exponential growth" in the cases. Merkel and the regional leaders are expected to review the measures on March 22nd and decide whether or not to proceed with the next step of reopening.
The number of cases per 100,000 reported Tuesday was 83.7 down from 68 a week ago, and the RKI has said the metric could hit 200 by the middle of next month, Reuters said in a report on Tuesday.
The blocking of Germany is currently expected to last at least until March 28th, but some restrictions have already been relaxed. Schools, daycare centers and hairdressers will reopen at the beginning of the month.
Then a week ago, bookshops and florists were allowed to reopen and some museums too. However, regional rules may vary, giving states discretion as to how and when to reopen certain case rates.
On March 22nd, Germany's five-point reopening plan had envisaged that some restaurants, theaters and outdoor cinemas could be reopened. But the rising number of infections could derail that schedule.
The epidemiologist's key comments come from the fact that Germany and a handful of other European countries have decided to suspend the use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford amid concerns about reports of blood clots in a handful of people who have been vaccinated.
The move has baffled experts around the world as the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency (both of which are conducting a safety review of the vaccine) insist that all available evidence shows that the vaccine is safe and effective, rather than asking for a higher one Risk of blood clots, which are common in the general population.
The vaccine manufacturer itself has highlighted that the data shows that the number of blood clots in the vaccinated population was actually lower than expected.
WHO and EMA, due to release the results of their safety review Thursday, say the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks and that countries should not interrupt their immunization programs. Nevertheless, more than a dozen European countries have stopped using it. According to experts, this could lead to a dangerous increase in infections and deaths.
"Latest figures suggest 40 fatal cases for every 20 million cases vaccinated with Astra-Zeneca shocks. Every single case is always terrible, but that percentage is statistically insignificant. Instead, vaccination delays cost Europe about 2,000 more deaths a day – and tens of billions of euros for closings, closed shops, "said Guido Cozzi, professor of macroeconomics at the University of St. Gallen, in a note on Tuesday.
Even though public health authorities like WHO and EMA reiterated on Thursday that the vaccine is safe, experts fear that more damage has already been done to the vaccine's reputation.
AstraZeneca's vaccine has already faced several hurdles ranging from question marks about trial methods and data to false hesitation about the vaccine's effectiveness in those over 65 and disputes over delays in delivery to the EU. Real-world data shows the vaccine is extremely effective at preventing severe Covid cases, hospitalizations and adult deaths.