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Coronavirus could spread ‘uncontrollably,’ Germany warns

A medic administers a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test on a motorist at a drive-thru coronavirus testing center at the Talavera car park in Wuerzburg, Germany, on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.

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Germany has issued a stark warning over the spread of the coronavirus, with top health officials sounding the alarm over potential further outbreaks in the country.

“The current situation worries me a lot. We don’t know how things will develop over the next few weeks,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, said on Thursday morning.

“It’s possible that we will see more than 10,000 new cases a day. It’s possible that the virus spreads uncontrollably,” he said, in comments translated by Reuters. He added that only 8% of cases currently seen in Germany were imported from overseas.

Wieler was speaking at a press conference with German Health Minister Jens Spahn who said the situation was worrying but not as bad as earlier in the year, despite a sharp rise in cases. 

Germany has been seen as a poster-child for its response to the initial coronavirus outbreak, having implemented a robust testing regime earlier on, as well as tracking and tracing cases effectively. It’s modern health care infrastructure helped to keep deaths relatively low.

While Germany has reported 311,503 cases, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, and a similar number to Italy where the virus first emerged in Europe in February, it has reported far fewer deaths, with the tally still under 10,000. In recent weeks it has seen an increase in the number of new daily infections.

On Thursday, it reported 4,058 new cases, with urban centers Berlin, Munich and Hamburg particular hotspots. Germany has moved to increase restrictions in such areas, with a curfew put on hospitality venues like bars and restaurants to curb the spread.

Wieler warned against complacency, however, saying that while Germany “got through the summer comparatively well” that did not mean the epidemiological situation wasn’t dangerous.

“Some claim that this shows that the virus is not that dangerous after all — that is a fallacy. Not that many people died because we took measures and kept to them,” the RKI tweeted, quoting Wieler.

The RKI updated its risk assessment of the situation in Germany and worldwide Wednesday, saying it was “a very dynamic and serious situation.”

“The number of cases continues to increase worldwide. The number of newly submitted cases in Germany declined from around mid-March to early July. Since the end of July, significantly more cases have been transmitted again, many of them initially related to travel. Since the end of August (week 35), more transmissions have been observed in Germany,” the RKI noted.

“A continuous increase in transmissions in the population in Germany can currently be observed. The dynamic is increasing in almost all regions,” it said, adding that outbreaks were particularly connected to celebrations with family and friends, group events, and old people’s and nursing homes.

First Known Rubella Virus Relatives Found In Uganda, Germany

KEY POINTS

  • Scientists discovered two viruses related to the rubella virus in animals
  • The findings suggest that rubella virus possibly originated in animals
  • Researchers are now trying to determine whether the rubella vaccine could be effective in all three viruses

Two research teams have found the first known relatives of the rubella virus. The findings provide clues regarding the origin of the virus, which has remained a mystery for years.

Rubella, also known as German measles, is a contagious disease caused by an airborne virus that has been known to be the only member of its virus family. It had not been found in animals. Although rubella disease was first described in 1814 and the rubella virus was first isolated in 1962, the actual origin of the virus and the disease remained a mystery.

Most people who get infected by the virus experience mild symptoms such as a low-grade fever, sore throat and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

Although the symptoms are generally mild, the virus can be particularly worrisome for pregnant women because it can cause a miscarriage or lead babies to have birth defects such as heart problems, spleen damage or loss of eyesight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

Rubella has largely been eradicated, thanks to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, a new study published in the journal Nature describes two rubella relatives found in two different places: Germany and Uganda. 

“Here we describe ruhugu virus and rustrela virus in Africa and Europe, respectively, which are, to our knowledge, the first known relatives of rubella virus,” the researchers wrote in their study, for which the two teams collaborated.

The two teams were working on separate projects and neither was looking for rubella when they discovered the virus’ relatives. The team in Uganda was actually looking for coronaviruses in bats prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the team in Germany was trying to find out what killed several animals at a German zoo.

The team in Uganda found the virus, named ruhugu virus, in the oral swabs collected from leaf-nosed bats. The team in Germany found the other rubella relative, now called rustrela virus, in acutely encephalitic animals in a zoo and also in wild yellow-necked field mice.

Between the two viruses, ruhugu appears to be the closer relative, with just one amino acid difference from rubella, while rustrela has several amino acid differences.

The teams found the new viruses in nearly half of the bats and mice they tested, suggesting that animals can be carriers of the virus without getting sick and that the rubella virus we know possibly originated in animals.

“There is no evidence that ruhugu virus or rustrela virus can infect people, yet if they could, it might be so consequential that we should consider the possibility,” said Tony L. Goldberg, study co-author and professor of epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) School of Veterinary Medicine, in