Germany’s Coronavirus Crisis Is Getting Out of Control

By BLOOMBERG

Germany’s Covid crisis is about to go from bad to worse, setting the stage for a grim Christmas in Europe.

With infections surging relentlessly and authorities slow to act amid a change in power, experts warn that serious cases and deaths will keep climbing. With intensive-care units all but filled in some regions, Europe’s largest economy faces its biggest test yet of the pandemic.

Faced with a deteriorating situation, Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders agreed Thursday to restrict access to restaurants, bars and public events for unvaccinated people in hard-hit areas — most of the country at this point. The measures mimic the targeted curbs already introduced elsewhere in Europe, which has again become the global epicenter of the coronavirus.

Germany’s outbreak suggests a deadly winter ahead for the region. The country’s health system is increasingly stretched even before people from the latest record surge in new infections reach hospitals. Merkel said Thursday that the country is facing a “dramatic situation.”

With cases doubling every 12 days, many hospitals that can still handle their loads will get overwhelmed by the end of November, according to Michael Meyer-Hermann, an immunology expert at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig, who sees a need for even tougher social restrictions.

Authorities need to act fast to reduce contact between people, and he says bars and clubs should be closed, since they’re often the cause of case clusters. He also recommends limiting capacity at public events and capping how many unvaccinated people can meet in private settings. But authorities are so far trying to avoid such drastic steps.

“The urgent wave that we’re in right now will not be stopped by vaccinations,” since it takes weeks for people to build up full protection, Meyer-Hermann said. “We need to keep other measures front and center and put them immediately into place.”

In Berlin, there were 79 intensive-care beds available for the city’s 3.8 million people on Friday, while in the northern port city of Bremen, there were just five beds for its 680,000 residents. And in Bavaria in the past week, two ICU patients were relocated to Italy amid a lack of resources.

Across the country, Germany currently has about 31,700 ICU beds, including 9,400 emergency reserves. That’s about 5,000 fewer than the same time last year, according to DIVI-Intensivregister. Available beds are currently at less than half the capacity of a year ago.

There appears to be little respite coming. Germany on Thursday reported more than 65,000 new cases, a record jump. Nearly 53,000 more were added in the 24 hours through Friday morning, pushing the seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people to a fresh high. 

“We are running right now into a serious emergency,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s public health authority. “We will really have a terrible Christmas season if we don’t turn things around.”

His comments have taken on an increasingly desperate tone. On Wednesday, he noted recent mortality figures indicate that day’s 52,000 new infections mean 400 more people are going to die in a matter of weeks. Based on those numbers, fatalities from Thursday’s infections would be even higher.

As Germany and other countries try to get to grips with the latest wave of the virus, many new measures are targeting the unvaccinated, because of higher contagion rates for people who have refused shots. In the German state of Saxony, the spread is 30 times higher among people who haven’t been fully immunized.

Germany’s latest steps include limiting access to restaurants, bars and public events in areas with high hospitalization rates only for people who are vaccinated or have recovered from the disease. The country has immunized less than 70% of its population, fewer than many other European countries.

Germany’s New Pandemic Plan

  • Setting hospitalization benchmark to trigger lockdown measures that target unvaccinated people
  • Expanding vaccination campaigns with increased offerings, including booster shots
  • Mandatory option for working from home where possible
  • Penalties for falsifying Covid vaccine certificates or test results

Austria has imposed a form of lockdown on those who haven’t been inoculated, and similar restrictions have also been introduced in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Figures in other countries, such as the U.K., show a similar trend between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated when it comes to Covid hospitalizations and deaths. The country reported 46,807 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure in almost a month.