Germany fears Covid outbreaks in flood-hit communities
After the devastating floods in western Germany, the focus is on helping survivors get access to clean drinking water and shelter. But the pandemic is complicating matters.
After the country's worst natural disaster in almost six decades that has claimed the lives of more than 160 people and wrecked towns and cities, survivors are reeling.
Authorities and volunteers are working round the clock to ensure those affected have access to drinking water, emergency accommodation and other basic needs.
But there is another issue worrying people on the ground - the Covid-19 pandemic.
Local officials in the states worst hit by the flood disaster - Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia - are concerned the situation could spark a "superspreader" event as Covid infections in Germany rise again due in part to the more transmissible Delta variant.
They fear that Covid could spread due to cramped conditions in emergency accommodation - and hamper the relief efforts.
"At the moment, lots of people are coming together in a very small space to manage the crisis together," David Freichel from the the state chancellery in Rhineland-Palatinate told Editorial Network Germany (RND). "We must now be careful that coping with the disaster does not turn into a super-spreader event.
"Many people there have lost everything. They're thinking about everything right now except the mask."
On Tuesday Germany reported 1,183 infections within 24 hours and 34 deaths. The number of Covid infections per 100,000 people within seven days stood at 10.9.
Special vaccine drives
The health ministry is currently preparing a special vaccination campaign in the disaster areas in consultation with the authorities of the districts affected.
Many rescue workers already have full vaccination protection. But in places where lots of people are in a confined space, helpers are to be made aware of the need to continue to comply with the coronavirus measures, such as keeping a distance and mask wearing, despite the state of emergency.
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In North Rhine-Westphalia, too, there are concerns about the risks of infection in flood-hit areas.
The NRW health ministry told RND that they are focusing on helping the basic needs of those affected first and foremost. But they added that an increased risk of the spread of Covid "could develop primarily through the accommodation of people in emergency shelters".
They aim to keep the situation under control with the help of Covid testing, masks and regular ventilation in crowded areas.
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Medical care sites are being set up in emergency shelters due to GPs and other medical sites being destroyed in the floods.
At least 165 people have died in Germany after extreme rainfall led to flash floods and rivers breaking their banks. The search for missing people is continuing.
On Tuesday Chancellor Angela Merkel was set to visit areas hit by the flooding in NRW.