In Portugal, the Corona numbers have risen significantly again. And according to experts, the omicron subvariant BA.5 that is widespread there should also spread further in Germany. What’s the status?

With the Omicron sub-line BA.5, which caused the number of corona cases to increase in Portugal, among other things, growth is also becoming increasingly clear in Germany.

Their proportion in random samples has recently doubled every week – but so far still at a very low level, as can be seen from the Covid 19 weekly report by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The development in detail: While BA.5 accounted for 0.6 percent of the positive samples tested for variants at the end of April, it was 1.2 and 2.5 percent in the following weeks. The latest available value for the week before last is already 5.2 percent. If the trend has continued, an even higher proportion can currently be assumed.

In addition, the steady decline in the nationwide seven-day incidence appears to have halted, according to the report. In the week to May 29, the key figure fell by 37 percent compared to the previous week, the experts write. In the current week, however, the decline in incidence is stagnating. The RKI also calls for compliance with recommendations for avoiding infection. In particular, it appeals again to risk groups and people over 70 to protect themselves from a serious illness with a second booster.

Above all, rising corona numbers in Portugal have recently attracted attention in Germany regarding BA.5. Despite the high vaccination rate of 87 percent, the number of hospital patients and mortality in connection with Covid-19 has recently increased in the popular holiday destination. There are hardly any corona restrictions in the country with a good ten million inhabitants.

Where does Germany stand in comparison? In the case of the virus variants, the omicron subline BA.2 is still found here in the majority, with clearly more than 90 percent. Previously, many people had been infected with BA.1 in the omicron wave. The RKI continues to report declines in hospital numbers.

BA.4 and BA.5 have basically been known for a few weeks. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies both as part of Omikron as a cause for concern. The proportion of BA.4 is also growing in Germany, but so far only slightly and in the range of less than one percent.

The virologist Sandra Ciesek from the University Hospital in Frankfurt recently wrote on Twitter about the subvariants that were first described in South Africa: “I think BA.4/BA.5 will also prevail here.” According to initial findings, they would escape the antibodies of vaccinated and recovered people even more through genetic changes. Initial data from people infected with BA.1 did not suggest reliable protection against infection with the other two subtypes. There is a particular risk of infection if the previous infection or vaccination was a long time ago.

So far there is no evidence that the severity of the disease has changed significantly with the two subtypes, Ciesek wrote. One must continue to monitor this. With regard to the adaptation of corona vaccines to Omikron, which has been ongoing for some time, she stated: “Unfortunately, you also realize that we will probably lag behind again with a BA.1 adapted vaccine. We have to get better and faster here.” The vaccines available so far are still aimed at the 2020 virus. Changed properties since then due to mutations had also surprised experts.

If you want to stop waves from BA.4 and BA.5, you have to vaccinate more – even those who have recovered, the South African expert Tulio de Olivera had sensed a few weeks ago. With so-called hybrid immunity – meaning the combination of infection and vaccination – breakthrough infections occur less frequently, according to experience there.