Covid crisis in Europe: Germany braced for ‘dire Christmas’ – fourth wave ’emergency’ hits

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More than 60,000 new coronavirus infections were recorded in a single day in Germany. It is the first time since the pandemic started the country boasts such high numbers. With 264 reported COVID-19 deaths, the toll is dangerously close to 100,000.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s public health body, said on Wednesday: “We have never been as concerned as we are now.

“There is an emergency in our country.”

Unless immediate action is taken, he added, people should expect “a very dire Christmas”.

Angela Merkel claimed: “The fourth wave is hitting our country with full force.”

Last week, a coronavirus patient at the Klinikum Freising hospital in a Bavarian mid-sized town had to be transferred to a hospital in Italy’s South Tyrol region due to a lack of capacity.

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Thomas Marx, the medical director of the hospital, said: “We had no more capacity to receive them, and the surrounding Bavarian hospitals were also full.”

Speaking to the news site I Am Expat, Dr Marx said another patient had to be transferred by the emergency services over the weekend.

He also confirmed all coronavirus patients in its intensive care unit are unvaccinated.

On Thursday, Ms Merkel announced new restrictions will be imposed by region, based on the hospitalisation rates.

Access to public life — restaurants, bars, gyms, hairdressers, cinemas, theatres, and events — will be reserved for the vaccinated in many areas.

In the country’s worst-hit regions, where hospitals are becoming worryingly full of COVID-19 patients, even those who got their two jabs will have to show a recent negative test to enter certain places.

The outgoing Chancellor also claimed the federal government would consider a request from regions for legislation to force care and hospital workers to be vaccinated.

In Saxony, the region with Germany’s lowest vaccination rate and the hardest hit by the new Covid wave is considering shutting theatres, concert halls and soccer stadiums.

Neighbouring Austria, with a high level of vaccine scepticism fueled by the far-right Freedom Party, is going into a full lockdown starting on Monday.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference: “We have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated.”

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He also announced vaccination will be compulsory from February 1 next year.

He added: “It hurts that such measures still have to be taken.”

Following the news, Germany has on Friday warned it may follow suit, leaving financial markets trembling and officials and experts concerned about the economic fallout.

New measures across the bloc, analysts are saying, could affect member states’ recovery in the last quarter of the year, especially if the retail and hospitality sectors are restricted.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, speaking about the fourth wave of infections, urged people to reduce their social contacts and warned vaccinations alone will not reduce case numbers.

He said: “We are in a national emergency.”

Asked whether they will follow in Austria’s footsteps, he replied: “We are now in a situation — even if this produces a news alert — where we can’t rule anything out.”

Of the prospect for the festive season he said: “How Christmas will turn out, I dare not say.

“I can only say it’s up to us.”

The crisis in the EU is not reduced to Germany and Austria.

The Netherlands is in a partial lockdown, unvaccinated people in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are facing restrictions, Belgium has tightened its measures in a last-chance effort to avoid a full lockdown, and Hungary will make booster shots mandatory for all healthcare workers and require face coverings in most indoor places from Saturday.

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