German doctors call on government to end ‘irresponsible’ easing of lockdown as virus spread accelerates

The heads of several German doctors associations have warned the German government that, if it does not row back on lockdown easings now, the country's health care system will be put under extreme strain for the third time in a year.

German doctors call on government to end 'irresponsible' easing of lockdown as virus spread accelerates
An ICU in Rostock. Photo: Bernd Wüstneck/DPA

“The agreed ’emergency brake’ certainly needs to be pulled, there can be no exceptions,” said Susanne Johna, head of the Marburger Bund doctors’ association.

The emergency brake is a clause in the lockdown agreement from March 3rd which commits states and regions to going back into a hard lockdown if the 7-day incidence stays above 100 for three days in a row.

The 7-day incidence now stand perilously close to the 100 barrier. On Saturday morning the Robert Koch Institute confirmed that it had risen to 99.9 cases per 100,000 inhabitants nationwide.

READ MORE: Germany warns of ‘exponential’ coronavirus spread

“I expect the situation to be even more critical at Easter than it was at the turn of the year,” Johna said, adding that the capacity buffer in intensive care units “will melt away rapidly.”

“It was irresponsible to lift restrictions in this way as we entered a the third wave with the spread of mutant strains. As a result, the clinics are now threatened with the third extreme situation within a year,” Johna said.

Gernot Marx of the Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine said that “from our point of view, there can only be a return to the lockdown of February.”

“Everything you allow yourself to do now, you will have to pay for later with interest and more interest,” Marx warned.

Eight German states, including Bavaria, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, now have seven-day incidences above 100. But Hamburg is the only state to have announced so far that it is taking back restrictions that had started this month.

On Friday evening, Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted that a nationwide return to a hard lockdown could be imminent.

“Unfortunately, we will have to make use of the emergency brake,” she said after ending a round of consultations with the state leaders on how to proceed with Germany’s vaccination rollout.

“I would have liked us to get along without the emergency brake, but, when I look at the developments of the last few days, that won’t be possible,” she said.

Health offices reported 16,033 new coronavirus infections to the RKI on Saturday morning. There were also 207 new coronavirus-related deaths reported within 24 hours.

On Saturday last week, the RKI registered 12,674 new cases and 239 new deaths within one day.

SEE ALSO: Here’s the German vocabulary you need to get the Covid-19 vaccine

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Germany’s third virus wave ‘appears to have broken’, says Health Minister

Germany seems to have halted a surge of coronavirus infections driven by the British variant, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday, cautioning however against lifting restrictions precipitously.

Germany's third virus wave 'appears to have broken', says Health Minister
Spahn speaking at a press conference on Friday May 7th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

“The third wave appears to have broken,” Spahn told a press conference in Berlin.

READ ALSO: IN DETAIL: These are Germany’s planned freedoms for Covid-vaccinated people

“The infection figures are dropping again, but we are still at a high level. They are not yet falling everywhere at the same rate, but they are falling,” he said.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute health agency recorded 18,485 new infections in the past 24 hours on Friday — compared with 27,543 on the same day two weeks ago.

The number of new infections per 100,000 people over the past seven days stood at 125.7.

Under national virus measures introduced in April, areas with incidence rates below 100 are allowed to begin easing some restrictions.

But Spahn warned that easing curbs too much too soon “would only help the virus”.

“In this phase of the pandemic, it is really a matter of not gambling away what has been achieved,” he said.

The so-called emergency brake rules prescribe strict curbs in areas with rates above 100, including sweeping shutdowns, contact restrictions and overnight curfews.

But the Bundesrat upper house of parliament on Friday approved new legislation to lift some curbs for fully vaccinated people and those who have recovered from Covid-19.

Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht called the move “a very important step towards more normality”.

‘Urgent need’

From Sunday, they would no longer have to abide by curfews or limits on social contacts.

Berlin’s mayor Michael Müller admitted that it was going to be “damn difficult to check” the curbs are lifted only to those who fall under these categories.

But he argued that “this is about fundamental rights, and they can only be restricted when there is an urgent need to do so”.

After a slow start, Germany began accelerating its vaccination campaign in April and last week gave the jab to more than one million people in one day.

Some 31.5 percent of the population have received at least one injection by Friday.

Spahn said Thursday that Germany will aim to offer Covid-19 vaccines to all children aged 12 and over by the end of August once a jab is approved for younger people by the European regulator.

It has also opened up the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone who wants it.

The AstraZeneca jab had previously been recommended only for people aged 60 and older following concerns over blood clotting cases among younger recipients of the vaccine.

READ ALSO: Germany gives green light to offer AstraZeneca to all adults