Covid-19: German hospitals advised to delay non-urgent surgeries

Germany's leading intensive care expert on Tuesday urged hospitals to postpone non-urgent procedures to free up beds and staff to deal with a spike in coronavirus patients.

Covid-19: German hospitals advised to delay non-urgent surgeries
Entrance to an emergency clinic in Laatzen, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in Germany has soared from just over 360 in early October to almost 2,400 currently, as the country battles a second coronavirus wave along with the rest of Europe.

Staff in many hospitals are already working “at the limits of their capacity”, warned Uwe Janssens, president of Germany's Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI).

Speaking at a press conference alongside Health Minister Jens Spahn, he said hospitals in areas with high infection numbers “should end normal operations as soon as possible”.

“That means that where it is medically justified, procedures must be halted and postponed” in order to preserve resources and free up badly needed intensive care personnel like anaesthetists.

READ ALSO: 'Worse than spring': German hospitals fear record number of coronavirus patients

He said Germany for now had enough beds and ventilators available nationwide, but the “key problem” was a potential lack of skilled medical personnel to treat intensive care patients, partly because of chronic
understaffing but also because doctors and nurses themselves were having to quarantine at times.

Germany this week entered a month-long shutdown to help slow the Covid-19 outbreak, with schools, daycare centres and shops staying open while restaurants, bars, leisure and cultural centres have to close.

In October hospital beds were brought to Hanover's conference hall to accommodate the growing number of patients. Photo: DPA

The country registered another 15,352 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 560,379, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.

Just as the RKI provides daily case numbers, Janssens' DIVI gives daily updates on the number of Covid-19 patients occupying Germany's 28,756 intensive care beds.

Only a quarter of the country's intensive care beds are unoccupied at the moment.

Janssens' call came as France's FHF hospital federation said there are plans to transfer Covid-19 patients to Germany for treatment within days as some hospitals creak under the pressure from surging virus cases.

READ ALSO: Under-pressure French hospitals to start sending Covid-19 patients to Germany

During the first coronavirus wave in the spring, the German government and federal states ordered hospitals to delay non-emergency procedures and operations, but they have stopped short of issuing such a requirement this time around.

Health Minster Spahn, himself recently recovered from the virus, said the current situation was “serious” but with large regional differences, and that he ultimate decision lay with the leaders of Germany's 16 federal states.

Nevertheless, he said he agreed with Janssens that it was “very, very important” to delay operations when it was medically responsible to do so, adding that the government would help cushion the financial impact on hospitals.

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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