The latest data from the Robert Koch Institut – Germany’s disease control organisation – revealed the reproduction rate of COVID-19 jumped to 2.88 on Sunday from 1.79 the day before, taking infections above the level needed to contain it over the longer term. This figure means, on average, how many people a person suffering from coronavirus could infect. The number is based on RKI’s moving 4-day average data, which reflects infection rates one to two weeks ago.
The R rate of 2.88 means that out of 100 people who contracted the virus, a further 288 other people will get infected.
This surging R rate is in stark contrast to that seen in the UKL, where it is believed to be between 0.7 and 0.9.
Germany has seen a huge spike in new COVID-19 infections, and on Friday recorded its highest increase in cases for more than a month, with 770 people testing positive and sending this total towards 190,000.
The Robert Koch Institut (RKI) attributed the recent rising R rate to a number of local outbreaks, the most high profile of which has been at a slaughterhouse where more than 1,000 of its employees have tested positive for coronavirus.
The slaughterhouse run by the company Tönnies in Rheda-Wiedenbrück in the northwest, near Dortmund, has seen a huge surge in new COVID-19 cases over recent days.
German daily newspaper Deutsche-Welle reported at least 1,029 of its staff have now tested positive for the killer virus, with the military setting up a testing facility on-site.
Fears of a bigger outbreak have intensified after officials in the North Rhine-Westphalia region reported outbreaks in logistics centres, refugee centres, church communities and after family parties.
But scientists have attempted to play down the importance of the R rate when overall numbers of cases are still at a reasonably low level.
They say when fewer people are infected, it is more likely that a new surge in cases will make the R rate appear higher than it actually is because of one ‘super-spreading’ event.
Experts add the outbreak is not out of control, as long as the R rate can be returned to normal levels reasonably soon.
The RKI said in its latest analysis: “Since case numbers in Germany are generally low, these outbreaks have a relatively strong influence on the value of the reproduction number.
“A nationwide increase in case numbers is not anticipated.”
The huge number of new infections at the company Toennies has prompted local health authorities to order all 6,500 employees and their families to go into quarantine.
The worrying outbreak at the meat processing firm near Gutersloh was first reported on Wednesday, when 400 employees tested positive for coronavirus.
But just two days later, that total has doubled to 803 and has now jumped even further to 1,029.
The latest outbreak may now force the German state of North Rhine Westphalia to impose a broader lockdown.
Premier Armin Laschet said on Friday: “We are seeing an outbreak on a scale that we haven’t seen before.
“We can still localise the outbreak, but if that changes then we will need a broad lockdown in the region.”
Any sort of lockdown, even if regional, would be a major blow to Germany’s plans to ease lockdown restrictions throughout the country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been in favour of maintaining lockdown measures throughout the country for longer.
But she eased restrictions that had been in place for several weeks following pressure from regional premiers.