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COVID-19

Germany in ‘national Covid emergency’, says Health Minister

Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn says Germany may be in "the most difficult phase of the pandemic" yet as intensive care wards overflow - and RKI boss Lothar Wieler has called for people in Germany 'to stay at home'.

Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn and RKI chief Lothar Wieler speak at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.
Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn and RKI chief Lothar Wieler speak at a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

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.”

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. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter

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.

READ ALSO:

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.

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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