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Germany is considering reimposing restrictions on public life because of the record number of coronavirus infections registered in recent days. The fourth wave of the pandemic strongly affects the country, which is beginning to notice an overload in the intensive care units and a gradual increase in the number of deaths. Germany still has more than 16 million people over the age of 12 unvaccinated. The administration of the third booster dose to the most vulnerable is progressing very slowly in the country. “The pandemic of the unvaccinated”, in the words of German Health Minister Jens Spahn, has led to the maximum number of daily infections since the beginning of the crisis: 33,949. The previous record had been set last December, in the middle of the third wave and when the country closed the hotel and restaurant sector and non-essential trade.
The health ministers of the 16 federal states meet this Thursday in Lindau (Bavaria) to analyze the situation and assess whether it is necessary to impose the restrictions again. Some territories are already taking measures, such as the temporary reintroduction of masks in schools. This is what Bavaria did, which once again forces pupils to cover their mouth and nose, for the time being, for a week in primary school and two weeks in secondary school. Chancellor (Prime Minister) Angela Merkel is in favor of imposing obstacles to the social life of the unvaccinated. Through his spokesman, he highlighted that, if the situation in hospitals gets worse, the call will be imposed 2G rule, which implies that only people who present a vaccination certificate or who have recovered from the disease will be able to have access to the interior of hotel and food establishments and also to commerce. “The situation is very bad in some hospitals,” the chancellor’s spokesperson said on Wednesday.
With a percentage of 66.9% of citizens with the complete vaccination schedule (in Brazil it is 54.79%), Germany still has 3.2 million people over 60 years old without vaccination who are especially at risk, he warned in Wednesday Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI, its acronym in German), the body responsible for monitoring infectious diseases. “If we don’t act now, this fourth wave will bring a lot of suffering again. Many people will become seriously ill and die, and the health care system will once again face a heavy burden,” he said at a press conference in Berlin. Wieler spoke of the “scary numbers” of deaths the country is recording. This Thursday, the RKI reported 165 deaths, a number that has been increasing in recent days.
The situation in hospitals worsens with each passing day and, although there are not even half of the ICU beds occupied during the second wave, doctors have already raised the alarm. According to the DIVI database, created in April 2020 to monitor the situation in the intensive care units of 1,300 German hospitals, several federal states have less than 10% free beds. In addition, the association of heads of pediatrics warned on Tuesday that they fear the “collapse” of their units due to the exponential increase in cases of respiratory syncytial virus in children, which is added to the cases of covid-19. Doctors explained that closing day care centers and schools last winter meant that “the children’s immune systems were not well trained” and they are becoming infected en masse, said Andreas Trotter, president of the VLKKD association. Several news in recent days inform that there are hospitals that cannot accept new admissions and are referring children to other units.
The fourth wave is behaving exactly as experts feared: with little vaccinated population and the relaxation of protective measures, infections are soaring. The cumulative incidence is 154.5 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, but in Germany it is calculated in seven days, so translated to Spanish standards (incidence in 14 days), for example, it would be around 300. In Spain, they do not reach it. 50.
“Vaccination proceeds very slowly. We need more agility to avoid unnecessary outbreaks”, laments Hajo Zeeb, an epidemiologist at the Leibniz Institute for Preventive Research and Epidemiology, who sees two options for improving the percentage of immunized people: mandatory vaccination for certain professional groups and intensifying efforts to bring immunization closer to all , using “mobile teams and providing easy access, especially for the younger population, between 12 and 17 years old”.
Concern in companies
The authorities’ priority is to protect the most vulnerable, but the third booster dose, offered to people over 60 and at risk groups vaccinated for more than six months, is advancing slowly. The Health Minister criticized the state governors, without specifically mentioning any, for not rushing to finish immunizing this population. Spahn also suggested reopening closed vaccination centers after the summer. Epidemiologist Zeeb thinks it would be a good idea because the offices of family doctors, where the vaccine is currently mostly used, do not have enough capacity. It is estimated that booster doses should reach between 20 million and 30 million people, as they are also indicated for certain professions with contact with the elderly and for the chronically ill.
Germany, which unlike France, among other countries, has avoided making vaccination mandatory, is now considering that at least caregivers of the elderly have to be immunized to be able to work in nursing homes. The offer of the booster dose for the general population is also being evaluated, said on Tuesday Thomas Mertens, director of the Permanent Commission on Vaccination (Stiko, in its acronym in German). The concern with this portion of 16.2 million Germans over 12 years old who do not get vaccinated because they do not want to also reached companies. The president of the German Employers Association (BDA), Rainer Dulger, this week called for a standard so that employers can know whether their employees are vaccinated or not. Currently, only employees of day care centers, schools and seniors’ homes are required to inform their employer of their immunization and only if they are consulted. Data protection laws in Germany prevent, except in very specific cases, the request for information of this type. Dulger urged the government to create “a credible legal basis” and recalled that company doctors could contribute to administering booster doses if they are approved for the general population.
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