The number of corona patients in the intensive care units is increasing again. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach is alarmed: “Preparations for autumn are in full swing.”

During the corona pandemic, Karl Lauterbach became the epitome of the bad news. Wherever he went, he warned and admonished. With his scientific knowledge, Lauterbach nevertheless won the sympathy of the citizens. In contrast to ex-Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, who was more familiar with numbers from a professional and financial point of view, Lauterbach seemed to know how to deal with incidences and the like. As a citizen, you had the feeling: someone who knows what’s going on and who could put everything back on track.

Now Karl Lauterbach is Minister of Health himself, so he is at the forefront in the fight against the pandemic. Hardly anything has changed in the Corona situation – except that all measures were dropped and the incidences are now rising again much earlier than in the past pandemic years. However, Lauterbach has remained true to his second job as a job messenger. “Unfortunately, it is to be expected that the B.A.5 wave will not be harmless. Anyone who thinks we are endemic is wrong,” he recently announced on Twitter.

In his tweet, however, Lauterbach did not refer to the incidences. It has almost become normal for them to increase. Almost because politics and science didn’t expect the next wave until autumn. Alarming, but not surprising, is the news that the intensive care units are also filling up with corona patients again. This is shown, among other things, by a calculation by the “world” that Lauterbach quotes in his tweet.

More corona patients in intensive care units than last summer

According to this, the hospitalization incidence already exceeds that of the previous year by 42 percent. The newspaper calculated this using data from the Robert Koch Institute. At the end of June 2021 there were still 693 corona patients in Germany’s intensive care units, so this year there are already 934, and the trend is rising. According to the digital intensive care register, almost a third of the corona patients in the intensive care units are ventilated (as of June 30, 2022).

According to the RKI report, people over the age of 80 are most affected. Overall, however, the hospitalization incidence is increasing in all age groups. This report may come as a surprise for two reasons: On the one hand, hospitalization has been declining since the beginning of the year and was even far below the values ​​from the previous year. This led scientists to believe that omicron, although far more infectious than the delta variant, provokes less severe disease.

But that was earlier in the year when the omicron subtypes B.A.1 and B.A.2 were dominant. The pathogen has continued to mutate since then. As the RKI writes in its latest weekly report, “according to official data, the pathogen B.A.5 is now predominant in Germany”. According to the report, 50 percent of all corona infected people have been infected with the new subtype. However, the information refers to three weeks ago, “higher values ​​can currently be assumed,” puts the RKI into perspective. Charité chief virologist Christian Drosten rejects the assumption that the virus will automatically become more harmless as it evolves. The new subvariant B.A.5 may again affect the lower airways more severely. “That makes me even more worried about the fall.”

The problem isn’t the number of beds

Scientists are already warning of a high level of sick leave and strains on critical infrastructure. Among them the biochemist Lars Kaderali. The member of the Federal Government’s Corona Expert Council considers it unlikely that the intensive care units will again reach their limits. However, he told the German Press Agency: “That cannot be ruled out either, but the probability is lower.”

According to information from the digital intensive care register, almost 18,500 of the more than 21,000 intensive care beds are currently occupied. Five percent of them with corona patients. Should the situation worsen, according to Divi, there are still just over 8,000 emergency reserve beds available (as of June 30, 2022).

Christian Drosten also does not believe that the intensive care units could be overcrowded again. However, the number of hospitalizations and deaths must be expected to increase, he said in the “Spiegel”. He is particularly worried about absences from work due to illness. “That’s going to be a real problem.”

Intensive care physician Christian Karagiannidis sees it that way too. “The staff situation in the intensive care units is extremely tense,” said the scientific director of the intensive care bed register of the DIVI specialist association to the newspapers of the Funke media group. There are 1,300 intensive care units nationwide. Around 580 of them reported significant staff shortages in mid-June. “The system is closer to a tipping point than I previously thought,” said Karagiannidis. “Never in the past few years have we had so few operable high-care beds available as we do now.” Until recently, the average across Germany was around 8,000, now it is still 7,500. It is to be expected that the situation will worsen due to the increasing number of infections and the corresponding increase in staff shortages.

And Karl Lauterbach? He reassured on Twitter: “Preparations for autumn are in full swing.” The Minister of Health left it open how. However, the package of measures planned for the autumn is probably intended to cushion the worst. If that were to happen, it would finally be good news again.

Sources: RKI weekly report, Divi intensive register, Twitter, with material from DPA and AFP