German air force transports COVID patients as some hospitals get overcrowded

Police officers walk along a street with bars as they check the coronavirus (COVID-19) protocol in Dresden, Germany, November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Matthias Reichl

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BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany prepared its air force to transport COVID-19 patients from overcrowded hospitals in the south, as national case numbers soar and a new type of virus in South Africa has caused widespread concern.

Germany recorded a decrease in the rate of coronavirus infections during the summer, but cases rose sharply in recent weeks and new daily infections reached a record high above 76,000 on Friday.

On Thursday, Europe’s largest economy crossed the threshold 100,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 Amid warnings from private hospitals in the south and east that their intensive care units are full.

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Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn called for “widespread restrictions on communications”, with the support of Germany’s regions, saying this was the only way to break the fourth wave.

Otherwise there might be “complete” shorthand, he said, without using the word “insurance”.

“The harder we hit the brakes, the better,” he told a news conference.

Analina Barbock, co-chair of the Green Party and Germany’s next foreign minister, told Spiegel magazine that a mandate for a vaccine for the whole population or a new German shutdown could not be ruled out.

A security source told Reuters later on Friday that the air force would transport critically ill COVID-19 patients from the southern town of Memmingen to Muenster near Osnabrück in the north.

It will be the first time the Air Force has used planes with up to six intensive care unit beds – called “flying intensive care units” – to transport COVID-19 patients within Germany.

The discovery of a new type of COVID-19 in South Africa has heightened concern about rising infection numbers, with Spahn saying the government will declare South Africa a “changing region for the virus” on Friday.

Spahn said on Twitter that the decision, which takes effect on Friday night, means that only airlines will be allowed to bring Germans back to Germany from South Africa. Everyone will have to quarantine for 14 days.

The head of Germany’s public health authority said he was very concerned about the new alternative but added: “So far, I’m not aware that this alternative has been identified in Europe or in Germany.”

Concerns about the impact of the new variable have soured financial markets. German DAX index (.GDAXI) Down by up to 4%, with Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) Inventory is down more than 10%.

Lufthansa said it was continuing passenger and cargo flights to and from South Africa for the time being, but was closely monitoring the situation.

Much of Germany has already introduced rules to restrict access to indoor activities for people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, but critics say the next coalition government needs to move faster to slow the spread of the virus.

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Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Andreas Renk and Paul Carrell; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, John Stonestreet, William MacLean

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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