BERLIN (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.
Der Spiegel magazine reported on Wednesday that Lauterbach is in favour of shortening quarantine periods over fears the country will soon grind to a halt given how many people are having to self-isolate protectively.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases currently recommends that infected people go into quarantine for 14 days, even if they are vaccinated or recovered.
Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology also doubted 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 RKI 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.
(Reporting by Miranda Murray and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Hugh Lawson)