Berlin The number of coronavirus cases is soaring, and the chances for government authorities to reign in the pandemic are narrowing. What’s left are urgent appeals and the hope for a vaccine.
As the number of cases continues to climb rapidly in the coronavirus pandemic, there are growing hopes for a vaccine.
On Friday, the German Ministry of Health confirmed its assessment that the first coronavirus vaccinations will likely be available in the first few months of next year. At the same time, there are growing indications that health authorities in some cities are no longer able to keep up with contact tracing. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) said her government would make a statement in the Bundestag on Thursday.
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the authorities reported for the second time more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases within one day. RKI reported 11,242 cases on Friday morning, this was only slightly below the record from the previous day (11,287 cases). But the current total number may be even higher, as a technical glitch at the RKI on Thursday caused temporary data gaps in the reporting of case numbers from the German states.
A spokesman for the German Ministry of Health said it was still thought that a vaccine could be available in early 2021. The German magazine "Spiegel" quotes German Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) in its new issue, saying it could be January, perhaps February or March - or even later.
The German newspaper "Bild" had previously reported that vaccinations could be available earlier, citing participants in a video conference of the state health ministers with Spahn earlier this week. Spahn had said that the company Biontech (Mainz) was close to the approval of a vaccine. When asked when he expected the first vaccines, he said: "This could happen before the end of the year.”
The CEO of the Tübingen-based biopharmaceutical company Curevac, Franz-Werner Haas, still expects a vaccine from his company to be launched in the first half of 2021. Curevac was the second German company after Biontec from Mainz to receive approval for a clinical trial.
The chairman of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, warned that if the number of new cases continues to rise, with 20,000 new cases a day, the situation will get out of control. "Then it would no longer be possible for health authorities to trace and disrupt the chains of infection," he told the "Rheinische Post". Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that health offices in several German cities are overburdened, so they cannot always do contact tracing of those affected.
"It is no longer possible to follow up every case thoroughly," said René Gottschalk, head of the Frankfurt Health Office, on ZDF's "Morgenmagazin" television program. "We are no longer able to reach all contacts of positively tested persons within 24 hours", said health official Falko Liecke of the heavily affected Berlin district of Neukölln on n-tv.
Ute Teichert, head of the association of doctors in the public health service, told Deutschlandfunk radio that the situation was difficult, but she would not call it a breakdown. She said that because of how fast the numbers are rising, it is difficult for personnel to keep up. The German Armed Forces have assigned nearly 2,000 military personnel to help fight the pandemic. Of these, 1,561 are helping the health authorities, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense told the "Rheinische Post" newspaper.
SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach called for not tracking all contacts in each individual case, but instead concentrating on clusters - groups in school lessons or choir rehearsals, for example.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units in Germany is also rising. According to figures from the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI), 1,121 COVID-19 patients are currently being treated in intensive care. A week ago, that number was 690, two weeks ago it was 510 and one month ago it was 293. 478 coronavirus patients are currently on ventilators.
According to the latest information, 21,736 intensive care beds are currently occupied, 7,784 are available. That is 873 free beds less than a week ago. Beyond that an "emergency reserve" of 12,717 intensive care beds is available, which would be ready within seven days. According to DIVI president Uwe Janssen, an overcapacity is not expected at present.
Several state premiers urged people to adhere to the corona hygiene rules. "We must succeed in stopping this wave. (...) And if we do a little more now, we will have fewer consequences afterwards", Bavaria's head of government Markus Söder (CSU) said in the television program "ZDF spezial”.
Hamburg's mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) warned that everyone should now understand the gravity of the situation. "We need discipline now", he said on the ZDF program "Maybrit Illner". Berlin's governing mayor Michael Müller (SPD) made it clear in the ZDF "Heute Journal" that there were "not many more decision-making options". Saarland's head of government Tobias Hans (CDU) said on ZDF that even though life went on "as normal" in the summer, people now had to take the situation more seriously again - as they did last March and April.
According to a new survey taken by ZDF television, 30 percent of citizens support even tougher corona restrictions. According to the survey, 54 percent consider the current measures to be exactly right, 14 percent consider them to be excessive. In particular, the mandatory mask wearing and restrictions on the number of participants at private parties and meetings meet with broad approval, while only a narrow majority is in favor of earlier closures of bars and restaurants.
The benefit of masks was recently questioned by the President of the German Medical Association, Klaus Reinhardt, but he is now taking it back: "The current evidence from a wide range of studies speaks in favor of the benefits of mouth and nose protection," he said.