(Reuters) – German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Wednesday that the number of new coronavirus cases has been under-reported and the actual incidence rate of infections is about two or three times higher than the officially reported figure.
Lauterbach said the under-reporting was due to fewer tests being performed at workplaces and at doctors practices during the holiday season, as well as only a few of those test results being submitted to authorities.
Lauterbach also expressed concern about a clear rise in cases of the Omicron variant and appealed to people to celebrate the New Year only in small groups.
Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology also doubts the accuracy of Germany’s reported figures for the coronavirus and the Omicron variant.
“The figures now are certainly under-reported,” he told the media group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.
The Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases on Wednesday reported 2,686 new cases of the variant, bringing the total number to 13,129. Four people have died with the variant.
The seven-day incidence rate, which has been a key metric for determining coronavirus policy, was reported as 205.5 cases per 100,000 residents, the lowest figure since early November.
This translated into 40,043 new cases over the past 24 hours. In neighbouring France, by comparison, authorities on Wednesday reported 208,000 new cases.
A spokesperson for the German Health Ministry said earlier Wednesday that the government expects a clearer picture of the infection situation early next year.
“The number of infections is an important indicator, but of course it’s not the only one,” the spokesperson said.
The sinking incidence rate comes despite repeated warnings by health officials of an impending fifth wave of infections.
The Health Ministry confirmed Tuesday that Germany is buying 1 million packs of Paxlovid from Pfizer, which has said that the pill cuts by 89% the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease.