German health experts call for strict lockdown to quell rising Covid cases

High-profile virologist Christian Drosten and other medical experts are calling for tougher coronavirus measures to control the third pandemic wave.

German health experts call for strict lockdown to quell rising Covid cases
People enjoying the weather in Hamburg on March 30th. Photo: DPA

Drosten, the chief virologist at Berlin’s Charité hospital and advisor to the government, said tougher measures were needed in Germany because of the increase in cases.

“I don’t think it will work without a new lockdown to once again delay this momentum that has now set in without any doubt,” Drosten said on his Coronavirus Update podcast on Tuesday.

The situation is unfortunately “very serious and very complicated”, he added, saying that Germany has missed a lot of opportunities to “optimise the tools” it has.

“I have the feeling that we actually still have to use the same tools right now, that we used in the first wave,” he said. The only thing left is the ‘sledgehammer’: a tough lockdown.

“It’s clear, contacts have to be reduced,” Drosten said, adding that this included the private sphere, education and workplaces. It is wrong, he said, to say that we don’t know where the virus is being transmitted.

READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a tougher lockdown?

Drosten said the virus surge has started earlier than models predicted.

This week, he said, the more contagious variant B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK, will cover more than 90 percent of cases in Germany.

“That is of course anything but reassuring,” he said.

Danger of pandemic getting ‘completely out of control’

Doctors have also urged the government to take action.

“We are in the middle of the third wave. Vaccinations will not yet be able to break it in the coming weeks,” Ute Teichert, chairwoman of the Federal Association of German Medical Officers, told the Rheinische Post.

It is therefore “crucial” to reduce the number of infections, she said. However, this is only possible with a “consistent lockdown”.

Teichert warned against opening steps, which some states or cities in Germany are taking.

READ ALSO: How the German city of Tübingen is betting on Covid tests to reopen public life

“Relaxations lead to people having a lot of contacts,” she said. Combined with the high infection figures, it would then become “difficult to impossible” to track contacts, and the danger of the pandemic getting “completely out of control” increases.

In parallel to the lockdown, “concrete concepts” must be developed “on how a reasonable testing and vaccination strategy and apps for digital contact tracing, such as the Luca app, can be used to ease the situation – but only when the number of cases is down”, said Teichert.

This strategy also includes explaining exactly how people and institutions should proceed if a rapid test indicates an infection.

On Wednesday, Germany registered 17,051 coronavirus cases within 24 hours and 249 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

The number of cases per 100,000 people within a seven-day period stood at 132.3.

READ ALSO: Germany’s coronavirus incidence rate more than doubles in four weeks

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German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

A wave of Covid infections in Germany is causing staff shortages as many people call in sick and isolate - including in hospitals. The number of Covid patients in intensive care is also increasing slightly.

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

Covid-19 infections are sweeping through the country this summer. On Tuesday, Germany reported 147,489 Covid cases within the latest 24 hour period, and 102 deaths.

The number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units in Germany rose to 1,000 on Sunday, and 1,062 on Monday, according to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI). The number of ICU patients hasn’t been at this level since mid-May.

At the last highest point – in December 2021 – just under 4,900 seriously ill patients were being treated with Covid-19 in ICUs, after which the figures dropped with phases where they plateaued. 

And now the increasing staff shortages – due to people getting Covid and having to isolate – is causing growing concern among hospitals and doctors, especially as experts believe it will get worse after summer. 

“We are receiving reports from all federal states that individual wards and departments are having to be closed, due to a lack of staff,” the head of the board of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

At times, emergency admissions are also being cancelled at rescue coordination centres. “This situation worries us considerably with a view to the upcoming autumn,” said Gaß.

READ ALSO: German politicians clash over Covid rules for autumn

Infection figures have risen sharply in recent weeks. The 7-day incidence on Tuesday stood at 687.7 infections per 100,000 people, but experts believe many cases are going unreported. 

“Although the occupancy rate in intensive care is only rising moderately, it is relatively high for a summer, and the beds available are becoming fewer and fewer due to the shortage of staff,” the scientific director of the ICU registry, Christian Karagiannidis, told the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

He said clinics and hospitals should work to allocate capacity across the country.

“This includes regional networks for the best possible distribution of patients by level of care,” he said. “Cooperation, but also relieving the burden on staff, will be the order of the day this autumn and winter,” said Karagiannidis, who also sits on the government’s council of experts team.

Germany’s Covid-19 rules still require that people who get Covid isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 10 days. The rules differ from state to state on how people can end the quarantine period. But health and care workers need to have a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken five days into isolation at the earliest before they can return to work, plus a prior 48-hour symptom-free period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

The German Foundation for Patient Protection rejected a demand to shorten the quarantine period. Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-chairman of the FDP, had proposed people should be able to take a test after only three days to leave isolation.

This “fuels the uncontrolled spread of corona”, said Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the foundation. “That is why the isolation period for corona-positive patients must be extended to 10 days,” Brysch recommend, adding: “This may only be shortened if a PCR test is negative.”