Germany faces grim COVID milestone with leadership in flux

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Germany COVID-19. approaching the 100,000 death mark

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At the start of a news conference, with Olaf Scholz of the centre-left Social Democrats creating a permanent emergency committee, his party and two others agreed to form a new government.

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“Sadly, the coronavirus still hasn’t been beaten,” Scholz said. “As far as the number of infections is concerned, we see new records every day.”

German officials – from outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel to state governors and three parties now vying for power – for failing to take decisive steps to flatten the transition curve since September’s nation’s election has been criticized.

Doctors and virologists have been warning for months that Germany faces a surge in new cases that could overwhelm its health care system, even as politicians from senior echelons face the prospect of further lifting pandemic restrictions. put in danger.

“No one had the courage to take the lead and announce unpopular measures,” said Uwe Jensens, who heads the intensive care department at St. Antonius Hospital in Eschweiler, west of Cologne.

“Lack of leadership is the reason we are here now,” he said.

Doctors like Janssens are bracing for an influx of coronavirus patients as confirmed cases hit fresh daily highs, experts say is also being fueled by vaccine skeptics.

Resistance to getting the shot – which is developed by German company BioNTech in collaboration with US partner Pfizer – remains strong among a large minority of the country. Vaccination rates have stalled for 68% of the population, far below the government’s target of 75% or more.

“We’ve got increasingly young people in intensive care,” Jensens said. “The amount of time they are treated is quite long and it blocks intensive care beds for a long period of time.”

He said older people who got vaccinated in early 2021 are also seeing their immunity weaken, leaving them vulnerable to serious disease again. Echoing problems seen during initial vaccine rollouts, officials have struggled to meet demand for boosters, even as they tried to encourage holdouts to get their first shots.

Some German politicians are suggesting that it is time to consider vaccine mandates, either for specific occupations or for entire populations. Austria made the move last week, declaring COVID-19 shots would become mandatory for everyone starting in February, after seeing a fresh outbreak of vaccinated fuel and a similar reluctance to admit to hospitalizations. Will be

Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said in June that she does not support such a measure.

Scholz, who is currently finance minister under Merkel, initially declined to comment on whether he would support mandatory COVID-19 shots.

But speaking with environmentalist Greens and leaders of pro-business Free Democrats, Scholz said Wednesday that the new government would require staff in care homes to be vaccinated. He said that without extension, extension of the measure can be considered.

He said a 1 billion euro ($1.12 billion) fund would also be set up to provide bonus payments to caregivers in hospitals and nursing homes.

All three parties recently used their parliamentary majority to pass a law that replaces the existing legal foundation for pandemic restrictions with narrower measures starting Wednesday. These include requiring workers to provide proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test to their employers. The change was criticized by Merkel’s centre-right union bloc as it made it harder for Germany’s 16 governors to impose a strict lockdown.

Merkel’s spokesperson acknowledged on Wednesday that “there are many experts who doubt that the decisions that have been taken so far, as sensible and important as they are, will be enough to slow the wave (of the infection).”

Germany’s disease control agency on Wednesday confirmed a record 66,884 new cases and 335 deaths. The Robert Koch Institute said the total death toll from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic was 99,768. The German weekly Die Zeit, which makes its calculations based on data from the local health authority, said the 100,000 limit had already been passed.

Meanwhile, health officials in five eastern states and Bavaria have activated an emergency system to coordinate the distribution of 80 critically ill patients to other parts of the country. Earlier this month, two patients were moved from southern Germany to Italy for treatment, a significant change from last year, when Italian patients were being referred to German hospitals.

Germany claimed nearly four times as many intensive care beds per capita as Italy had, a factor that experts say was the key to the low German death rate at the time.

Since January, Germany has had to cut its ICU capacity to 4,000 beds due to staff shortages, many of whom have left because of the pressure they endured earlier in the pandemic.

About the condition of doctors and nurses in the coming months, Janssens said, “It is difficult for people to cope with it physically and psychologically.”

“We will survive, somehow,” he said.

The World Health Organization’s European office warned this week that the availability of hospital beds will again determine how well the region copes with the expected increase in cases in the coming months, along with vaccination rates.

The agency said on Tuesday that based on current trends, Europe could report another 700,000 deaths in the 53-nation region by next spring, with 49 countries expected to see “high or extreme stress in intensive care units”.


Frank Jordan reported from Berlin.


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