German disease control center urges vigilance as virus rises

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The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention, Lothar Wieler, addresses a news conference on the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease in Berlin, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Germany's disease control center is reporting a new daily record increase in coronavirus infections, which rocketed past the 10,000 mark for the first time as the pandemic continues to spread. Slogan in background reads: ' Generating evidence sharing knowledge protecting and improving health'. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool)

BERLIN – The head of Germany's disease control center urged people Thursday to be vigilant about following coronavirus precautions as the country posted a record number of new cases, saying a rapid increase in infections could be reversed but only if everyone works together.

Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler said the daily number of confirmed cases hit 11,287, the first time Germany's 24-hour tally has been over the 10,000 mark since the beginning of the pandemic and shattering the previous daily record of 7,830 set on Saturday.

The country had a nationwide infection rate of 56.2 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days. Some hot spots, including several districts of the capital, had rates well over double that.

“We have to assume that the number of serious cases will increase, and that the number of dead will also rise,” Wieler said.

He dismissed the idea that more testing is behind the higher numbers, saying Germany has carried out around 1 million tests a week for some time and has seen the rate of positive results jump to more than 3% now from less than 1% at the beginning of August.

However, Wieler noted that Germany - which has been widely praised for effectively slowing the spread of the virus at the outset of the pandemic - is still doing better than most of its neighbors in Europe.

The country's three-point strategy of “contain, protect, mitigate” to quickly track outbreaks, maintain hygiene and safety rules, and effectively treat infections needs the public's help to continue succeeding, he said.

“We have a good strategy in Germany that we have followed from the beginning,” Wieler said. “We are all affected by this pandemic and we can only get through it together.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has registered 392,049 cases with 9,905 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

Germany's spring lockdown was much milder than those in many other European countries. It has reopened schools across the country, as well as shops, restaurants and other businesses, albeit with mask regulations in some places, limits on how many people can gather in one place and other precautions.

German states have begun implementing stricter rules in recent weeks, as the numbers have again been rising.

On Thursday the government broadly widened the number of countries considered coronavirus “risk areas,” meaning anyone traveling to Germany from those places are subject to mandatory COVID-19 testing and may be subject to quarantine.

The revised list includes all of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Poland, and large parts of Italy and Austria.

An economic survey published Thursday indicated that German consumers are growing increasingly pessimistic about the future amid growing fears of new restrictions.

The forward-looking GfK index fell more strongly than predicted by economists to minus 3.1 points for November, from minus 1.7 points in October.

The survey of some 2,000 consumers over the first two weeks of October showed about three-quarters of respondents believed the coronavirus poses a “major or very major threat,” while about half were “concerned or very concerned” about their personal future, the GfK agency said.

The pandemic pushed Germany's economy into a recession in the first quarter. The drop in consumer confidence suggests that increasing private consumption may not continue to bring growth back around, ING economist Carsten Brzesk said.

“Given that it very much looks as things will first get worse before they get better, both in terms of infections and restrictions, the risk of a double dip in Germany is also increasing,” Brzesk saud,