Stranded German circus faces uncertain future due to coronavirus restrictions

On a normal Thursday afternoon, Josef Traenkler would be pulling on his clown costume, sharpening his knives or grooming his horses for a performance.

Stranded German circus faces uncertain future due to coronavirus restrictions
Circus boss Josef Traenkler training his horses at his circus tent in Muelheim. Photo:AFP

Instead, the German entertainer is holed up inside a tent painting circus wagons with his brother.

Restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Germany have brought business to a grinding halt for Circus Altano, a family firm with 16 performers.

“We are not allowed to perform any more,” the 44-year-old said. “So we're doing things now that we wouldn't have had time to do otherwise.”

The big top — along with its 20 horses, llamas, goats and dogs — has been stuck since early March in a field in Muelheim an der Ruehr near Essen airport.

The team of knife throwers, fire jugglers and acrobats would usually move on at least every 10 days. Today, they were supposed to be somewhere in Saarland.

Traenkler is concerned that if the situation goes on much longer, there won't be enough money to keep feeding the animals.

“We don't have any gigs, and if there are no gigs we have costs that just can't be covered,” he said.

“We have been getting food from local farmers and so on, and we always make sure we have enough, but if this goes on for a long time it will be more difficult.”

As well as catching up on repair work and maintenance, the Circus Altano team are still practising for one to three hours a day.

The animals also need to be trained at least once every three days — so they don't forget the routines, according to Traenkler.

A performer with the Circus Altano outside the big top. Photo:AFP

But he's not sure how long they can carry on without any clear plan for the future.

“If you're a hairdresser or a shop, the restrictions are lifted and you can just open again. But we have to plan weeks in advance.”

And if social distancing continues to be mandatory in Germany, Traenkler fears the worst.

“We usually perform to audiences of around 50. If half of those people are missing, because they are afraid to come or not allowed to come because of the danger of infection, that would be an economic disaster for us. We could not exist on that.”

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German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab