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HEALTH

US denies ‘Wild West’ swoop on Berlin-bound masks at airport

The US embassy in Germany on Monday denied a claim that a Berlin-bound shipment of protective masks had been "confiscated" by the United States, calling it disinformation designed to stoke division.

US denies 'Wild West' swoop on Berlin-bound masks at airport
The company Ber-Bek in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania lays out masks ready to be transported on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

“The United States Government did not take any action to divert any…supplies that were destined to Germany nor did we have any knowledge of such a shipment,” an embassy spokesman told AFP.

READ ALSO: Modern-day piracy: German official says US swooped on masks at airport

“We remain concerned about pervasive attempts to divide international efforts through unsourced, unattributed disinformation campaigns,” he added.

Berlin's regional minister of the interior Andreas Geisel on Friday said 200,000 highly sought-after FFP2 masks, made by an American firm in China and destined for use by Berlin police, were “confiscated” in Bangkok.

He accused the US of using “methods from the Wild West” and of carrying out an “act of modern-day piracy”.


Geisel doubled down on the accusations on Monday morning, insisting that the masks had been redirected to the US.

“The fact is that we ordered a delivery and paid for it… our protective masks ended up in the USA. That is not OK,” he told public broadcaster ZDF.

German newspaper Bild said the shipment contained masks made in China by US firm 3M, one of the leading brands in the sector.

The company came under fire from US President Donald Trump last week, who claimed on Twitter that his administration “hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks”.

After a late start in procuring urgently needed protective gear, Trump recently invoked the Defense Production Act to make US firms divert resources to the battle against the pandemic.

Geisel faced criticism from media and opposition lawmakers in Berlin for failing to provide proof the US had grabbed the masks.

“The Berlin Senate is looking for a scapegoat to cover up its own inability to procure protective equipment,” said conservative regional MP Burkard Dregger.

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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