In a press conference on Friday, Spahn said that as Germany’s intensive care units fill up with coronavirus patients – most of them unvaccinated – the country must prepare to transfer people to facilities that still have available beds, “including abroad”.
“We are entering a situation in which, for the first time, we will have to transfer patients across regions, possibly also to neighbouring countries,” said Spahn, who belongs to Angela Merkel’s CDU.
“It is ten past twelve,” Spahn said, indicating how serious the situation is. “We are in a national emergency that needs a joint national effort.”
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Last week, a hospital in Freising, Bavaria, transferred two Covid intensive care patients to clinics in the Italian province of South Tyrol.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), said clinics and intensive care units are already at breaking point in many regions. “Medical care is no longer guaranteed there in some cases,” he said.
Asked whether Germany would consider a lockdown as announced in Austria Friday, Spahn said it was not on the table yet “but we shouldn’t rule anything out”.
“We have obviously not reached the peak” number of positive cases or hospitalisations, he said.
‘Stay at home’
The conference came after Germany agreed on changes to the Infection Protection Act, and a catalogue of new measures, including 3G rules on public transport and in the workplace.
But during Friday’s press conference, Wieler cast doubt on whether the new government restrictions would be enough to break a vicious fourth wave of the pandemic.
He said that with record-breaking infection levels, the nationwide curbs on the unvaccinated were insufficient.
As cases have topped 300 per 100,000 people, the rules for public spaces “are no longer enough in the current situation,” he said, calling it an “absolute emergency”.
Looking visibly distressed at times, Wieler called for big events to be cancelled, clubs and bars to be closed and private contacts limited to stop the spread of the virus.
Germans should “stay home when they can”, he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed Thursday to bar the unvaccinated from restaurants, sporting events and cultural shows after new cases soared to an all-time daily high of more than 65,000.
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To protect the most vulnerable, they also agreed to introduce compulsory vaccination for healthcare workers and employees in elderly homes.
Spahn said that the government was stepping up supplies of vaccines, with five million jabs ordered for doctor’s offices next week to meet demand for booster doses.