The health ministers of Germany’s 16 states called on Thursday for elective surgery to be postponed countrywide as the country passed the grim milestone of 100,000 Covid-19 deaths amid a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Chairing the ministers’ videoconference, Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) said the decision had been unanimous. “It is clear to all of us that the situation is very, very serious,” he told dpa after the meeting.
Holetschek also thanked states with spare intensive care capacity for taking in patients from badly affected areas. Transfers are currently being planned from Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia.
The German air force has two aircraft on standby to assist with the transfers.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for increased restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic, as more state leaders indicated willingness to consider tough measures to stop the disease’s spread.
“We need more contact restrictions contact,” the outgoing chancellor said, while declining to comment on calls from state leaders to bring forward a crisis meeting planned for December 9.
The current situation is extremely dangerous and care has to be taken to ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed. “Every day counts here,” Merkel says.
She welcomed plans by chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz to set up a crisis staff to deal with the pandemic. “I have also made clear to him that we can set this up during this transitional phase,” she said.
New provisions, put forward by the parties set to form a new governing coalition, take effect from Friday. They do not permit wide-scale lockdowns of schools and public life in general.
At least two states, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, indicated on Thursday they were considering a lockdown heading into the Christmas season as case numbers soared.
Saxony Premier Michael Kretschmer told the Saechsische Zeitung regional newspaper that a lockdown could only be avoided “if there is a collective understanding and common awareness of the need to avoid contact and observe the measures.”
Meckelenburg-Vorpommern Health Minister Stefanie Drese told dpa she could rule nothing out in the current situation.
Kretschmer said Saxony was currently preparing the transfer of patients to other states and expressed concern over long queues at vaccination centres.
Saxony has the lowest vaccination rate in Germany, with 57.9 per cent of the total population being fully vaccinated.
But he came out against mandatory vaccination, while calling for a campaign to convince people to get their jabs.
The seven-day incidence rate of infections in the state passed 1,000 per 100,000 people, reaching 1,074.6 early on Thursday, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the official disease control body.
In neighbouring Thuringia, the seven-day rate hit 773.2, the second-highest in Germany after Saxony.
State premier Bodo Ramelow expressed strong criticism of people refusing te get vaccinated. The full vaccination rate in Thuringia stands at 62.2 per cent of the whole population, third-lowest behind Saxony and Brandenburg and well behind the national rate of 68.2 per cent.
Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann issued a call on Thursday for a general mandate for vaccination. “If we do not reach the necessary vaccination rate on a voluntary basis, then mandatory vaccination is the only way,” he told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.
Last week, Bavarian premier Markus Soeder became the first state leader to raise the prospect of compulsory vaccination.
The DIVI association of intensive care doctors called on Thursday for compulsory vaccination for all adults following a meeting of its executive.
A planned mandate for only medical and care staff would be insufficient, DIVI spokesperson Felx Walcher said. “We expect solidarity from the entire community to keep the health system from collapse,” he said.
But he noted that compulsory vaccination could no longer play a decisive role in countering the current fourth wave.
“We need – now and immediately – unified country-wide restrictions on contact and hygiene concepts to see tangible effects over the next three to four weeks,” Walcher said in an apparent call for a lockdown.
Pointing to the approval on Thursday by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) of vaccines for children from the age of 5, Lower Saxony Health Minister Stephan Weil said that this presented a chance to keep schools open, a point of key concern throughout the pandemic.
“This is very good news for many parents, but primarily for the children,” he said.
Figures from the RKI published early on Thursday took the coronavirus death toll in the country to 100,119.
The number of infections recorded in a day also passed 70,000 for the first time, with health authorities reporting 75,961 cases in 24 hours. This compares to 65,371 new infections a week earlier.
The latest seven-day incidence is 419.7 – another record high since the pandemic began.