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HEALTH

Merkel says coronavirus rules evoked memories of East Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that the drastic limits placed on people's freedoms to curb the coronavirus earlier this year had weighed heavily on her, bringing back memories of life in surveillance-riddled East Germany.

Merkel says coronavirus rules evoked memories of East Germany
Merkel pictured by a Trabi, the signature car of the GDR (East Germany). Photo: DPA

Speaking on the eve of the 30th anniversary of German reunification, Merkel told the RND newspaper group she was acutely aware of the sacrifices she was asking of Germans when the country went into lockdown in March.

“That I had to tell people they could only be out in the street in a single household or just two persons at a time, that no events could take place, that children could not visit their parents in care homes — these were serious restrictions.”

READ ALSO: 'Life as we know it will return': Merkel makes emotional appeal for more caution in coronavirus crisis

A pastor's daughter who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR), Merkel, 66, said she reflected a lot on her childhood and youth when making those tough calls in the early days of the pandemic.

Merkel pictured as a teenager in the town of Himmelpfort, in former East Germany. Photo: DPA

“My background has shaped me,” she said, recalling “the longing for freedom during life in the GDR”.

But the veteran leader, who as a young woman rejected an offer to inform for the Stasi secret police, said her experiences in former East Germany also prepared her for difficult times.

“We learned to improvise and we always managed well despite many shortages. These are skills that are useful today too.”

Three decades on, Germany is planning muted celebrations to remember the historic unification of the communist East with the capitalist West, as the nation battles an uptick in coronavirus infections.

The Berlin Wall fell in a peaceful revolution on November 9, 1989, paving the way for the formal reunification of Germany on October 3rd, 1990.

READ ALSO: How October 3rd became German Unity Day

“Until the fall of the Wall, I never thought that German reunification would happen in my lifetime,” said Merkel, who plans to step down next year.

“When it did become reality, it was a wonderful experience that taught me that change can be good, and change for the better is possible.”

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COVID-19

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

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