Only dramatic contact reduction can break Germany’s fourth wave – Spahn

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BERLIN, Nov 26 (Reuters) – The situation in Germany is dramatic as never before in the pandemic, Health Minster Jens Spahn said on Friday, warning that only a sharp reduction in social contacts could break the fourth wave.

“The situation is very dramatic, dramatic like at no other moment in this pandemic,” Spahn said during a news conference. “The harder we hit the brake the better.”

Spahn added that Germany needs to take decisive action now or else face drastic measures in the coming weeks that could include a complete reduction in contacts between people,

“Everything we don’t decide now, everything we don’t reduce now in terms of contacts, will require even more drastic measures in two or four weeks’ time,” Spahn told a news conference in Berlin.

“That is our appeal: massive restrictions of contacts,” he said, calling for this to be supported by Germany’s regions or else there could be a “complete” reduction, he said, without using the word “lockdown”. 

Germany readied its air force to transfer COVID-19 patients from overwhelmed hospitals in the south as national case numbers rocketed and a new virus variant in South Africa caused widespread alarm.

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

On Thursday, Europe’s biggest economy crossed the threshold of 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths amid warnings from hospitals mainly in the south and the east that their intensive care units were filling to capacity.

Later on Friday, the air force will transport severely ill COVID-19 patients from the southern town of Memmingen to Muenster near Osnabrueck in the north, a security source told Reuters.

This will be the first time the air force uses planes fitted with up to six ICU beds – labelled “flying intensive care units” – to transfer COVID-19 patients within Germany.

The detection of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa added to concern over rising infection numbers, with acting Health Minister Jens Spahn saying the government would declare South Africa a “virus variant area” on Friday.

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

Worries over the impact of the new variant caused financial market jitters. Germany’s blue-chip DAX index fell as much as 4%, with airline Lufthansa’s stock dropping more than 10%.

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

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

Much of Germany has already introduced rules to restrict access to indoor activities to people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, but critics say that the incoming coalition government needs to act more quickly to slow the spread of the virus.

Photo – Chocolate Santa Clauses with masks stand at the Wawi company in Pirmasens, Germany. EPA-EFE/RONALD WITTEK

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