German Air Force to transfer COVID patients as some hospitals are overwhelmed

Police officers walk down a street lined with pubs as they check the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) protocol in Dresden, Germany on November 23, 2021. REUTERS / Matthias Rietschel

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BERLIN, November 26 (Reuters) – Germany has prepared its air force to transfer COVID-19 patients from overwhelmed hospitals in the south as the national number of cases soars and a new variant of the virus in South Africa was causing widespread alarm.

Germany saw a drop in the coronavirus infection rate over the summer, but cases have risen sharply in recent weeks and new daily infections hit a record high above 76,000 on Friday.

Europe’s largest economy crossed the threshold of 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday amid warnings from mainly southern and eastern hospitals that their intensive care units were filling to capacity.

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Acting Health Minister Jens Spahn called for “massive contact restrictions” backed by German regions, saying this was the only way to break the fourth wave.

Otherwise, there could be a “complete” reduction, he said, without using the word “containment.”

“The harder we brake, the better,” he told a press conference.

Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the Greens party and Germany’s new foreign minister, told Spiegel magazine that neither a vaccination mandate for the entire population nor a new German lockdown could be ruled out.

Later on Friday, the Air Force will take seriously ill COVID-19 patients from the southern town of Memmingen to Muenster near Osnabrueck in the north, a security source told Reuters.

It will be the first time that the Air Force has used planes equipped with up to six intensive care beds – labeled “flying intensive care units” – to transfer COVID-19 patients to Germany.

Detection of a new variant of COVID-19 in South Africa added to concern over increasing number of infections, Spahn saying government would declare South Africa a “virus variant zone ” Friday.

The decision, which takes effect from Friday evening, means airlines will only be allowed to return Germans to Germany from South Africa, Spahn said on Twitter. All will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

The head of the German public health authority said he was very worried about the new variant, but added: “So far, I am not aware that this variant has been identified in Europe or in Germany. . “

Concerns about the impact of the new variant have raised concerns in financial markets. The German DAX index (.GDAXI) fell 4%, with shares of the airline Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) falling more than 10%.

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

Much of Germany has already introduced rules to limit access to indoor activities to people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, but critics say new coalition government must act faster to slow the spread of the virus.

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Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Andreas Rinke and Paul Carrel; edited by Philippa Fletcher, John Stonestreet, William Maclean

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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