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Czechs rush to Germany before border closes

Czechs hurried to cross the German border on Saturday a day before it closes as part of Berlin's effort to stop the spread of highly infectious coronavirus strains.

Czechs rush to Germany before border closes
A car with a German license plate crosses the border from the Czech Republic. Photo: Michal Cizek / AFP
Germany said on Thursday it would ban travel from the Czech Republic as well as from Austria's Tyrol region over a surge in the virus variants.
   
Germany classed the Czech Republic and Austria's Tyrol as hotspots and opted to implement border controls in its southern states of Bavaria and Saxony as of Sunday.
   
In normal times, there is free passage between fellow member states of the European Union like the Czech Republic and Germany.
   
“I must cross the border before midnight,” professional driver Ludvik Boucek told AFP on Saturday afternoon as he washed his truck at a service area at the western Czech crossing of Rozvadov.
   
“I'm glad the company dispatcher told me about the closure. I hadn't heard anything about it,” said Boucek, who is headed for England.
   
Only essential workers — like doctors or employees in elderly care homes — and returning Germans will be allowed to cross the border to Germany as of Sunday.
 
 
 
'Indispensability' certificates
 
“Czech cross-border workers in Germany will need a certificate of 'indispensability' and a negative test every day,” the Czech foreign ministry said in a tweet Saturday. “Border controls will be in place for at least 10 days.”
   
Other travellers as well as cross-border students will have to go into two-week quarantine.
   
In late January, Berlin already restricted travel from countries or places hardest hit by new highly contagious coronavirus variants.
   
An EU member of 10.7 million people, the Czech Republic has registered some of the world's highest coronavirus infection rates on a per capita basis in recent months.
   
It has seen over a million confirmed cases and more than 18,000 deaths since the March outbreak.
   
The populist government of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis  failed in its attempt to extend a state of emergency past February 14 after it was voted down in parliament on Thursday.
   
The government has quarantined three worst-hit regions, deploying almost 600 police officers to carry out random checks on their borders.
   
Waiting to cross over into Bavaria at the snow-covered Czech Rozvadov crossing, van driver Milan Vaculka said he was worried about how and when he and his colleague might be able to return home.
   
“We have no idea what things will be like when we return. Nobody told us that,” he told AFP.

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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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