An employee at a vaccination center in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on March 18, 2021, amid the ongoing pandemic. Photo: AFP/Christof Stache

Coronavirus infection numbers in Germany are rising at a “very clearly exponential rate” as highly contagious variants drive up case numbers in the EU’s biggest country, health authorities said Friday.

“It is very possible that we will have a similar situation over Easter to the one we had before Christmas, with very high case numbers, many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed,” the vice-president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Lars Schaade, told reporters. 

The RKI on Friday reported 17,482 new infections in the previous 24 hours and 226 deaths in Germany, with the seven-day incidence rate soaring to 96 per 100,000 people despite a months-long shutdown of large swaths of public life.

The grim news came as Germany resumed administering AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 jabs after the European regulator EMA assessed it was “safe and effective” to use.

Amid a widely criticized sluggish vaccination campaign, Germany decided on Monday, along with most EU governments, to suspend the use of the vaccine for the EMA to examine a handful of cases of cerebral vein thrombosis that emerged.

Doctors will now have to inform patients about the possible blood clotting risk before giving them the jabs. 

Critics had complained that the decision to halt use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine over the last days only served to fuel mistrust over the jabs and further delay Germany’s inoculation program.

By Thursday, only 3.8% of the German population was reported fully immunized.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with the country’s 16 state leaders on Monday to set new shutdown rules based on the latest pandemic developments.