Germany faces a milestone due to the emerging corona virus as the leadership continues to change
ESCHWEILER Germany is set to record 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 this week, surpassing a bleak milestone that many of its neighbors overtook months ago but which Western Europe’s most populous country had hoped to avoid.
Teutonic discipline, a robust health care system, and the release of several vaccines – one of them domestically – were meant to stave off a winter wave of the kind that struck Germany last year.
However, complacency and a national election, which was followed by a prolonged government transition, have made senior politicians wave the prospect of further restrictions being lifted even as Germany’s infection rate rises steadily this fall.
Uwe Janssens, chief of intensive care at St.
“This lack of leadership is the reason we are here now,” he said.
Doctors like Janssens are preparing for an influx of coronavirus patients as confirmed cases reach new daily highs that experts say are also fueled by vaccine skeptics.
Resistance to getting the shot — including that developed by German company Biontech with its American partner Pfizer — remains strong among the country’s significant minority. Vaccination rates have stopped at 68% of the population, well below the 75% or higher the government is targeting.
“We’re increasingly getting young adults in intensive care,” Janssens said. “The amount of time they are treated is significantly longer and intensive care beds closed for longer.”
He said that older adults who were vaccinated as early as 2021 are also seeing their immunity waning, leaving them vulnerable to serious illnesses again. Echoing the problems seen during the initial vaccine rollout, authorities have struggled to meet the demand for boosters even as they try to encourage holdouts to get the first vaccine.
Some German politicians suggest it is time to consider delegating a vaccine, either to specific occupations or to the population as a whole. Austria took the step last week, announcing that COVID-19 shots would become mandatory for everyone from February after seeing similar reluctance to outbreaks of newly fortified fuels and hospitalizations.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in June that she did not favor such a measure. In a sign of a possible shift in the situation, Merkel summoned the leaders of the three parties negotiating to form the next government for talks on Tuesday in the Chancellery to discuss the epidemiological situation.
Merkel’s likely successor, incumbent Finance Minister Olaf Schulz of the centre-left Social Democrats, declined to convene on whether he would support the mandatory COVID-19 shots.
Along with the Environmental Greens and the pro-business Liberal Democrats, his party recently passed a law that would replace the current legal underpinnings of pandemic restrictions with narrower measures, starting Wednesday. These include requiring workers to provide their employers with proof of vaccination, cure, or negative testing. But the change also makes it difficult for Germany’s 16 rulers to impose strict lockdowns without the approval of state councils.
Obtaining these majors may be the most difficult in those states where the number of cases is higher. A recent study found that infection rates are higher in regions where support is greater for the far-right Alternative for Germany, a party that has campaigned against epidemic restrictions.
Last week, Saxony, an eastern state with the highest infection rates and where the alternative to Germany is particularly strong, announced that crematoriums would be allowed to operate on Sundays to handle a higher-than-normal death toll.
Meanwhile, the German authorities have activated the emergency system to coordinate the distribution of seriously ill patients across the country. Earlier this month, two patients from southern Germany were flown to Italy for treatment, a big change from last year, when Italian patients were sent to German hospitals.
Germany boasted nearly four times as many intensive care beds per capita as it had in Italy at the time, a factor experts say was key to the low German death toll at the time.
Since January, Germany has had to reduce its intensive care unit capacity by 4,000 beds due to staff shortages, many of whom have resigned due to the stress they were exposed to earlier in the pandemic.
“It’s hard for people to deal with this both physically and psychologically,” Janssens said of the situation doctors and nurses will face in the coming months.
“We will somehow survive,” he added.
The World Health Organization’s European office warned this week that the availability of hospital beds will once again decide how well the region copes with the expected rise in cases over the coming months – along with vaccination rates.
Based on current trends, Europe could see another 700,000 deaths reported across the 53-nation region by next spring, with 49 countries expecting “extreme or severe stress in intensive care units,” the agency said on Tuesday.
Jordanians reported from Berlin.
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