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Coronavirus: Germany faces grim milestone with flow lead

ESCHWEILER, GERMANY – Germany is poised to pass the 100,000 mark of COVID-19 deaths this week, a memorable milestone that some of its neighbors passed months ago but which Western Europe’s most populous nation has raised hopes of. hope to avoid.

Discipline, a robust health care system and the launch of numerous vaccines – some of them homegrown – to prevent the winter spike that happened in Germany last year .

In reality, Germans face a confusing array of pandemic rules, lax enforcement and a national election – followed by a protracted government transition in which politicians Senior level has the prospect of further lifting restrictions even as infection rates rise.

Uwe Janssens, head of the intensive care unit at St. Antonius of Eschweiler, west of Cologne, said: “Nobody has the courage to go ahead and announce unpopular measures.

“This lack of leadership is why we are here now,” he said.

Doctors like Janssens are bracing for a massive influx of coronavirus patients as confirmed cases hit new daily highs that experts say are also being fueled by vaccine skeptics.

Resistance to injections – including a measure developed by German company BioNTech together with US partner Pfizer – remains strong among a significant minority of the country. Vaccination rates have stopped at 68% of the population, far below the 75% or higher the government has targeted.

“We have more and more young people in intensive care,” says Janssens. “The length of time they were in treatment was significantly longer and it blocked the intensive care beds for a longer period of time.”

Older adults who get vaccinated early in 2021 are also experiencing reduced immunity, making them more susceptible to serious illness again, he said. Problems arose during the initial rollout of the vaccine, with authorities struggling to meet demand for the boosters even as they tried to incentivize holders to get the first shot. .

Some German politicians suggest that it is time to consider the mandate to vaccinate, either for specific professions or for the entire population. Austria took that step last week, announcing that COVID-19 vaccinations would become mandatory for everyone starting February after a similar reluctance to vaccinate fuel flare-ups and hospitalization.

In June, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not support such a measure. Signaling a possible change of position, Ms. Merkel summoned leaders from the three parties who are negotiating the formation of the next government for talks on Tuesday at the chancellor to discuss the situation. epidemic.

Merkel’s likely successor, incumbent Finance Minister Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democrats, refused to see if he would back off mandatory COVID-19 shots.

Along with environmentalist Greens and pro-business Liberal Democrats, his party recently passed legislation that replaces existing regulatory foundations on pandemic curbs with narrower, mandatory measures. starting on Wednesday. These include requiring workers to provide their employers with proof of vaccinations, rehab or a negative test. However, the change also makes it difficult for Germany’s 16 governors to impose tough sanctions without the approval of state assemblies.

Getting those large portions can be especially difficult in the states with the highest number of cases. A recent study found higher infection rates in areas where the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is strongest. The party has campaigned against pandemic restrictions, and polls show its supporters have a negative view of vaccine mandates, compared with the rest of the voting population.

While the AfD is not expected to win Germany’s four regional elections next year, experts say political campaigns could distract from difficult topics such as tackling the pandemic. .

“Often the focus is on the things that will drive the vote, rather than the unpopular decisions,” said Catherine Smallwood, a coronavirus expert at the World Health Organization’s office for Europe.

“That could contribute to the spread of the virus if measures and decision-making are not taken as promptly and specifically as they should be,” Smallwood said in a recent interview.

Germany’s disease control agency on Wednesday reported 66,884 new confirmed cases, and 335 deaths. The total death toll from COVID-19 has been 99,768 since the start of the pandemic, the Robert Koch Institute said. The German weekly Die Zeit, which self-tested against figures from local health authorities, said the 100,000 threshold had been passed.

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

Germany boasts nearly four times as many intensive care beds per capita as Italy then, a factor experts say was key to Germany’s low death toll at the time. .

Since January, Germany has had to cut the capacity of its 4,000-bed ICU due to staff shortages, many of whom have been laid off because of the pressure they suffered earlier during the pandemic.

Janssens talks about the situation doctors and nurses face with this, physically and psychologically in the coming months.

“We’re going to survive, somehow,” he added.

The World Health Organization’s European office warned this week that hospital bed availability will determine how well the region copes with the expected increase in the coming months – along with vaccination rate.

Based on current trends, Europe could see another 700,000 deaths reported across the region of 53 countries next spring, with 49 countries expected to witness.” extreme or extreme stress in the intensive care unit,” the agency said on Tuesday.

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Jordans reported from Berlin. Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

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