Berlin’s major Charité Hospital warns of ‘critical situation’ if cases continue to rise

Doctors at Berlin's largest hospital have said that it will face serious strain on its capacity if a further rise in Covid-19 cases leads to similar rates of hospitalisation to those that were seen at the beginning of January.

Berlin's major Charité Hospital warns of 'critical situation' if cases continue to rise
An ambulance at Berlin's Charite hospital. dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

“If the number of seriously ill Covid patients exceeds the number in the second wave, we will be in a critical situation,” said Martin Kreis, director of patient care at Germany’s largest university hospital.

Kreis said that the Charité hit its upper capacity limit at the beginning of the year due to the high number of severe Covid cases in intensive care units.

In January, the hospital had to stop accepting patients from clinics in other German states.

At the same time, the Berlin hospital never had to transfer any Corona patients outside of the capital.

“We will continue to do everything we can to care for patients from the surrounding region as well,” Kreis pledged.

The number of new admissions to Charité’s intensive care units has risen significantly in the past two weeks. Kreis said that the age group between 30 and 60, which has had little chance of being vaccinated, is now particularly affected.

“The trend is clear, and it is forcing us to react,” he said, adding that a reserve intensive care unit has been fully reopened. In addition, scheduled surgeries that can be postponed have been cancelled.

Since a large proportion of Charité staff have now been vaccinated, concerns at clinics that staff would be absent due to infections and quarantine have been reduced.

Meanwhile, Kreis affirmed that staff at the hospital are still motivated to take on the challenge of dealing with a rise in patients. But he said that some staff were showing signs of exhaustion after months of high patient numbers and fatalities.

At the Charité, about one-third of ventilated Covid patients have died so far.

Intensive care specialists in the capital have warned that an overload of intensive care units is imminent.

Steffen Weber-Carstens, medical director of the German Association for Intensive Care Units (Divi), said that an additional 100 ventilated Covid patients had been treated in intensive care units in the capital in the past three weeks.

Currently, there are about 280 patients in the capital receiving ventilation, with 90 at the Charité alone, which treats the most severe cases.

READ MORE: German Health Minister pleads for lockdown ‘to break Covid wave’

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.