Germany’s Covid-19 pushes hospitals to limits

Authorities are no longer able to track infections back to their source and that leads to an exponential growth in infections

BERLIN • Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her decision to once again severely limit movement in Germany, saying the country is in a “dramatic situation” as the rapid spread of the coronavirus stretches healthcare services to their limit.

Authorities are no longer able to track infections back to their source and that leads to an exponential growth in infections, which must be stopped, Merkel told lawmakers in the German Parliament yesterday.

Tension over the German leader’s push for the strictest measures since the country’s lockdown in the spring boiled over during her speech. Opposition lawmakers repeatedly interrupted her, forcing Wolfgang Schaeuble, the Parliament’s president, to call for order.

When she continued, she seemed to push back against the far-right Alternative for Germany (or AfD), which has been outspoken in questioning the government’s decisions to fight the pandemic.

“Lies and disinformation, conspiracy and hate damage not only the democratic debate, but also the fight against the virus,” Merkel said. “This pandemic is a medical, economic, social, political and psychological test.”

Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s caucus leader, called Merkel’s speech akin to “war propaganda”, adding that Germany is “governed by a form of war Cabinet”.

Merkel secured an agreement on Wednesday with leaders of the country’s 16 states to impose a month-long partial shutdown, starting on Monday. Tensions were high before the meeting, which was moved forward by two days in a sign of increased urgency.

Underscoring the need to act, Germany’s daily coronavirus cases increased the most since the start of the outbreak, with 23,553 new infections in the 24 hours through yesterday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The number of fatalities rose by 160, the most since early May, to 10,281 (at press time).

“We are in a dramatic situation at the beginning of the cold season,” Merkel said. “I very much understand the frustration, and yes the despair, in these areas.”

After failing to secure new measures two weeks ago amid resistance from state premiers, Merkel’s plan was adopted almost entirely after cases surged since then. The challenge now will be to get the pandemic-weary public to abide by the rules, while protests increase.

Resurgence in infections across Europe has prompted governments from Ireland to the Czech Republic to introduce stricter measures to tackle the crisis. On Wednesday, France also announced a clampdown on movement.

By closing bars and restaurants in Germany for a month, as well as leisure facilities and cultural venues, the government hopes to slow the spread of the virus while keeping most businesses operating.

The objective is to be in a position to ramp up more economic activity in December, ahead of the critical Christmas shopping season, according to Helge Braun, Merkel’s chief of staff.

“If we don’t slam on the breaks now, it would mean that at some point we won’t have enough medicines, intensive care units will be overburdened, and our hospitals will no longer be able to cope,” Braun said yesterday on Deutschlandfunk radio. “We must prevent such a medical emergency and it’s only possible if we clearly reduce contact.” — Bloomberg