German government hesitates on lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise

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BERLIN – The German government refused to back calls for a quick and brutal lockdown on Friday to curb the worsening coronavirus situation in the country, which has seen daily confirmed cases reach a new high and put hospitals under strain .

Health Minister Jens Spahn said people-to-people contact should be sharply reduced, warning that “the situation is extremely serious, more serious than at any time during the pandemic.”

But he declined to say whether he would support general restrictions of the kind seen in earlier stages of the pandemic, when schools, non-essential stores and other areas of public life were closed. Austria, facing a similar increase in the number of cases, this week ordered a ten-day lockdown for everyone, renewable for an additional ten days.

A spokeswoman for outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel also declined to know whether she was in favor of triggering the so-called emergency braking measures last used in April.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said there were “political realities that must be recognized”, such as the new majority in parliament since the German elections on September 26 which Merkel’s party narrowly lost. His government’s junior partner, the center-left Social Democrats, negotiated the formation of a new government with two other parties.

The new government is expected to take over in early December, but the transition period – with Merkel as guardian – has been blamed for crippling Germany’s response to the pandemic.

The country’s disease control agency said an additional 76,414 cases had been reported in the past 24 hours, a new record. The Robert Koch Institute said Germany had also recorded 357 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total since the start of the epidemic to 100,476.

In response to a recently discovered variant that is spreading across South Africa, Spahn said airlines from there could only carry German citizens. Travelers will need to be quarantined for 14 days whether or not they are vaccinated, he said.

“The last thing we need is to introduce a new variant which will cause even more problems,” he said.

Spahn noted that Germany had to organize large-scale transfers of patients within the country for the first time since the outbreak began in early 2020, including with help from the military.

The Defense Ministry said a Luftwaffe A310 medevac plane would transport critically ill patients from the southern city of Memmingen to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Friday afternoon.

Hospitals in the southern and eastern regions of Germany have warned they are running out of intensive care beds due to the large number of critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The governor of Saxony, the state with the highest per capita infection rate in Germany, has called for a meeting of federal and state officials scheduled for December 9 to be brought forward.

“The hesitation will be punished,” Michael Kretschmer told German media group RND.

“We need to reduce public and economic life as much as possible and provide financial assistance to affected businesses,” he said.

In the meantime, Germany is releasing 18 million doses of the vaccine over a ten-day period to meet demand for boosters and first shots for people who have not yet had one.

About 68.3% of the country’s 83 million inhabitants are fully immunized, below the minimum threshold of 75% targeted by the government.


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