German air force transfers patients as clinics fill up

Medics wearing PPE are seen transporting a patient infected with Covid-19 to an ambulance from an armed forces medical transport plane
Medics wearing PPE transport a patient infected with Covid-19 to an ambulance from an armed forces medical transport plane for transfer to less busy intensive care units in the country amid a ferocious fourth wave of the virus. Ina Fassbender / AFP
Germany on Friday used a military plane to transfer intensive care patients to less afflicted regions, an unprecedented move as a vicious fourth wave of the pandemic fills hospital wards.

A specially equipped Airbus 310 medical transport plane took off from Memmingen in the hard-hit state of Bavaria headed for Muenster/Osnabrueck airport in the west of the country, a German air force spokesman said.

Using an emergency plan devised earlier in the pandemic, patients in overstretched intensive care units are being moved to clinics that still have capacity for critically ill people.

A ferocious fourth wave of Covid-19 has in particular ravaged the south and south-east of the EU’s most populous country.

“The situation is dramatically serious — more serious than at any other point in this pandemic,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters on Friday, as he called on regional and local authorities under Germany’s federalist system to tighten shutdown measures.

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The transport plane has six intensive care beds, which a defence ministry spokesman said would all be filled on the first flight, with further planes on standby.

Germany this week passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak, as daily infections continue to shatter records.

The Robert Koch Institute infectious disease centre on Friday reported 76,414 cases in 24 hours while the seven-day incidence per 100,000 people reached 438.2 — both setting new highs.

The below chart from Our World in Data shows the difference between the current situation and previous waves.

As the situation worsens, Spahn and other officials are calling for the next crisis meeting between federal and state leaders set for December 9th to be moved forward to approve new measures.

Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel, who is expected to hand over the reins to a new government early next month, warned on Thursday that “every day counts” as she urged “more contact restrictions” to fight the virus.

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