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COVID-19

Merkel gives stark warning as Germany’s Covid death toll tops 100,000

German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued an urgent warning on pandemic management on Thursday to the new government coming in to succeed her, imploring it to take quick, decisive measures as the country's total death toll passed 100,000.

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel addresses the media on November 22nd, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP-Pool | Markus Schreiber

Speaking one day after Olaf Scholz presented his new centre-left-led ruling coalition due to take office next month, the outgoing Merkel told reporters that “every day counts” as Germany continues to smash daily coronavirus infection records.
 
“We need more contact restrictions,” Merkel said, adding that she had “today clearly told” Scholz that “we can still manage this transition period together and look at all necessary measures”.
 
Calling Thursday a “sad day” over the grim death toll, Merkel, a trained scientist, said she had sought dialogue with Scholz, a Social Democrat, and the leaders of his coalition partners Greens and the libertarian FDP because of the gravity of the situation.
 
 
As The Local reported on Wednesday, the coalition allegedly snubbed Merkel’s calls for a two-week circuit breaker lockdown, telling the veteran Chancellor that the move could be interpreted as a “bad political trick.” 
 
Germany weathered earlier bouts of the pandemic better than many other European countries, but has seen a recent resurgence, with intensive care beds rapidly filling up.   
 
Europe’s largest economy recorded 357 Covid fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll since the start of the pandemic to 100,476.
 
The weekly incidence rate also hit an all-time high of 438.2 new infections per 100,000 people on Friday, the Robert Koch Institute health agency said.
 
The escalating health crisis poses a baptism of fire for the new government.
 
The country has been stuck in political limbo since the September 26th general election, with the popular Merkel governing only in a caretaker capacity.
 
Her health minister Jens Spahn warned this week that most Germans would be “vaccinated, cured or dead” from Covid-19 by winter’s end, as he urged more citizens to get jabbed.
 
‘Thousands dying daily’

The spike in Germany comes as Europe has re-emerged as the pandemic’s epicentre, with the continent battling sluggish vaccine uptake in some nations, the highly contagious Delta variant, colder weather sending people indoors and the easing of restrictions.

An AFP tally of official figures showed on Thursday that more than 1.5 million people have died from Covid-19 in Europe.

Scholz began a presentation of his new government’s policy roadmap on Wednesday by announcing new measures to tame the fourth wave.

These included forming a corona response task force based at his office and earmarking one billion euros ($1.12 billion) in bonuses for overstretched health workers on the front lines.

New German government
Representatives of the German ‘traffic light’ parties arrive at a press conference to set out their plans for the coming months and years on Wednesday, November 24th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

READ MORE: How Germany’s next government plans to fight Covid

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock told public broadcaster ARD the incoming coalition would take 10 days, until early December, to decide whether “the protective measures go far enough”.

But that timetable has already been criticised as far too little and too late.

“The latest decisions are like announcing in a flooding catastrophe a plan to hire more swimming teachers and distributing a few water wings and rubber ducks,” Sueddeutsche newspaper fumed.

“The coalition has big plans, but what use are they if we are all locked down over Christmas with thousands dying each day?”

Bavaria Governor Markus Soder called for the next crisis meeting between state and regions, set for December 9th, to be held much earlier.

Low vaccination rate

As the fourth wave rages, the German health sector has had to call on hospitals elsewhere in the European Union for help.

Germany last week began requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter workplaces.

Several of the worst-hit areas have gone further, cancelling large events like Christmas markets and barring the unvaccinated from bars, gyms and leisure facilities.

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The surge has ignited a fierce debate about whether to follow Austria’s example and make vaccination mandatory for all citizens, with Scholz voicing support for compulsory jabs for health staff.

Germany’s Covid-19 crisis has in part been blamed on its relatively low vaccination rate of about 69 percent, compared to other Western European countries such as France, where it is 75 percent.

Meanwhile Bayern Munich football club confirmed on Wednesday that star midfielder Joshua Kimmich and back-up striker Eric Choupo Moting — both of whom are unvaccinated — have tested positive for the virus.

By Deborah Cole and Yann Schreiber 

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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