‘Pandemic not yet over’: German doctors call for renewed Covid restrictions

Despite the current wave of Covid infections subsiding, a leading doctors' association said on Sunday that German hospitals were struggling to cope with all their patients.

‘Pandemic not yet over’: German doctors call for renewed Covid restrictions
A discarded FFP2 masks lies on the ground in Stuttgart. Photo: dpa | Marijan Murat

“The pandemic is not over yet, and the current political dispute is endangering our ability to treat patients,” Michael Weber from the Association of Senior Hospital Physicians told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. 

Weber said that 20 percent of hospitals were still complaining about excessive strain on their emergency care facilities.

He said that this was reason enough for state governments to start activating the “hotspot” clause in the new Disease Control Law, which allows for the reintroduction of face masks in indoor areas and social distancing.

A good ten percent of beds in general and intensive care units continue to be occupied by patients with Covid symptoms, Weber said.

Surveys suggest that hospitals are still postponing surgeries due to the fact that so many staff have tested positive for the virus.

Cases sink

The warning comes despite the fact that registered new cases of infection are falling sharply.

The 7-day incidence fell to 1,098 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on Sunday morning from 1,142 on Saturday and 1,181 on Friday.  A week ago, an incidence of 1,458 was recorded.

Health departments in Germany reported 55,471 new infections on Sunday. A further 36 deaths were recorded nationwide within 24 hours, compared with 42 a week ago.

Easter testing

With Easter coming up next weekend, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Family Minister Anne Spiegel (Greens) called on people to use antigen testing and masks when visiting family.

“The number of cases is declining sharply. To keep it that way, everyone should get tested before an Easter trip or test themselves,” Lauterbach wrote on Twitter. He also advised people to voluntarily wear masks indoors.

Controversy over vaccine purchases

According to the Health Ministry, Germany still has 77 million doses of Covid vaccine in stock, more than 10 million of which will reach their expiration date by the end of June. A further 50 million will pass the expiration date in the third quarter.

It has ordered a total of 677 million vaccine doses for the period between 2021 and 2023, more than half of them from Biontech/Pfizer.

The health policy spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Tino Sorge (CDU), accused Lauterbach of a “shopping frenzy” in an interview with Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

“The minister no longer knows any limits when it comes to ordering vaccines. He orders whatever is there – the actual need and the costs no longer play any role for him,” Sorge said. In view of the tight budget situation, he warned that Lauterbach would have to account for “what costs have been incurred by the federal budget as a result of his unnecessary orders.”

Member comments

  1. Are we still pretending that the removal of unvaccinated healthcare professionals has nothing to do with hospitals struggling? They canceled that in the UK because they would have lost 10% of qualified doctors (plus other staff.) The intensive care numbers are now the lowest they have been since November 1st 2021. Although I would have expected numbers in hospital to rise when such a large number of people are infected. How many of these patients are there for other reasons? Why in this day and age where we have access to so much information can we not find out any details other than hospitals full.

    As for the sheer jaw dropping numbers of vaccines ordered. Thats, (my maths is not fantastic) about 8 doses per man woman and child. Why did we need to order that many?
    I con only come up with a couple of explanations.
    The government were grossly incompetent
    Corporate greed.
    They knew repeated jabs were needed and they led us on with untruths. Which would pose the question of which other assertions made by both governments are fundamentally untrue.
    Data from Israel shows the 4th jab to loose its efficacy after just 6 weeks. So we get a booster every 6 weeks and wear masks and test forever?

    There’s far too many people around now that want a return to lunacy. Nothing we have done in the last 2 years has made a difference. What would change this time?. Numbers have gone up and down regardless of lockdowns or unvaxxed only lockdowns. Or double masks and triple shots. We could go down the zero covid route locking down entire cities and starving the populous. Its working so well with their record daily case numbers. With drones asking people to ignore the souls desire for freedom. Smells like a utopia to me.

    I’ve written too much and this is probably going too go into the memory hole. At least I have all this time on my hands.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.