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Germany intensive care unit occupation at lowest level since pandemic even as cases increase

Jorg Luyken
The intensive care unit of Berlin's Corona-Treatment-Centre
The intensive care unit of Berlin's Corona-Treatment-Centre

The number of intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients has hit a new low in Germany despite an uptick in recorded cases in recent weeks. The pattern is similar in other Europe countries.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s official disease control body, confirmed in its daily report on Friday evening that 230 intensive care beds were currently being occupied by coronavirus patients - less than one percent of the total number.

It marks the continuation of a decline in the need for intensive care among Corona patients since early April when close to 3,000 of the country’s ICU beds were taken by the virus.

The drop in serious cases comes despite an uptick in daily cases since mid-July from around 400 to over 1,400 today, with the RKI describing the trend as “very concerning.”

That serious symptoms in Germany are dropping despite an overall rise in positive test results is backed up by figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention.

These put hospital admissions per 100,000 people for the week August 3rd-9th at lower than the first week of February when the virus had barely gained a foothold in Germany.

Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - cases default

Although a lag between a rise in cases and hospitalisations is to be expected, the steady increase over three weeks should have made a mark on hospitalisation figures by now.

The RKI says that pneumonia tends to occur in serious cases during the second week after infection.

Germany’s disease agency has not yet provided an explanation for why the rise in positive tests has not led to an increase in hospital admissions. It did not respond to a request from the Sunday Telegraph for comment.

The RKI warns though that the number of occupied beds “can rapidly increase locally and affect the public health system.”

A possible explanation for part of the discrepancy between cases and hospitalisations lies in the fact that Germany is testing more.

Since August 8th mandatory PCR swabs for those arriving from ‘risk areas’ have been in place at all borders. Meanwhile Bavaria has introduced tests for anyone who wants one.

In the week up to August 9th some 672,000 tests were carried out nationwide, a 100,000 increase on the previous week and up 200,000 on the start of July.

The situation in intensive care units is similar in other European countries.

The Netherlands and France, both the subject of new UK quarantine rules due to a rise in positive tests, do not yet show a significant increase in ICU occupancy.

The Netherlands have seen a slight uptick in ICU admissions in recent days, with 42 beds now occupied by Covid-19 patients, up from 20 at the end of July. This rise is dwarfed by the increase in reported cases which have shot up 20-fold since early July.

In France, intensive care bed occupancy has remained relatively constant since mid-July when the number sank from around 450 to 350. At the high point of the crisis some 7,000 ICU beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients.