The richest country in Europe, with a model health system, remains without intensive care beds
Germany was considered an example to other European countries during the first wave of coronavirus and praised for the health system, considered one of the best in the world. But now it is facing the worst and worst cases since the beginning of the pandemic, CNN reports.
The number of coronavirus infections reached a record high on Friday, with almost 24,000 new cases in 24 hours, as well as the number of patients in intensive care units in the country. Official data show that the number of COVID-19 patients in German intensive care units has risen from 267 on September 21 to 3,615 since November 20 – a 13-fold increase in just two months.
Europe’s largest economy has gone through a pandemic quite well so far, compared to neighboring countries. This is partly due to its high capacity for intensive care, with 33.9 beds per 100,000 inhabitants. Italy, for example, has only 8.6. But with the increase in COVID cases in Europe, even the German health system is under pressure, and hospitals in some areas are getting closer and closer to their limits.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Friday that the system could collapse in a few weeks if the current trajectory continues.
“The number of severe cases in ATI is constantly increasing. The death toll is something that is not really talked about and remains very high, “said Steffen Seibert, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“We have not yet managed to bring the numbers back to a low level. Basically, we have only managed to get past the first step so far, which is to stop the strong, abrupt, exponential growth of infections, and now we are stable, but the number of cases is still very, very high “, he added.
Michael Oppert, head of the ATI at Ernst von Bergmann Hospital in Potsdam, is equally concerned about the dramatic rise in recent weeks and expects things to get worse.
“We are not at the top of the wave now, at least as far as I can see,” he told CNN. “And we have a capacity for a few more patients, but if this growth remains as rapid, I think that even our hospital, with over 1,000 beds, will reach a point where we have to send patients home or to other hospitals to be treated, ”he says.
Bettina Schade, head nurse in the hospital’s COVID ward, described how the ward has changed in the past few weeks.
“The number of patients has increased. We receive many more patients with different degrees of disease. Both for the normal COVID section and at ATI. We are currently facing the need to put many patients from the normal COVID department in intensive care very quickly because the patients’ condition is deteriorating very quickly “, she says.
This is true even for many younger patients with severe symptoms, said Tillman Schumacher, an infectious disease doctor.
“We have 30- or 40-year-old patients here who are on a ventilator and I’m not sure if they’ll survive,” he says.
Only two of the 16 ATI beds for COVID patients were vacant at the time of the CNN team’s visit, and hospital staff is already canceling non-emergency operations to leave beds empty and making plans to convert more general intensive care units into COVID units.
Dr. Uwe Janssens, head of the Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) in Germany, explained what measures would be taken if the current increase in the number of cases continues. “The normal program of hospitals must be closed, partial closure of the usual operations and hospitalizations of patients that we can delay a few weeks. There are people who do not urgently need surgery. These can be postponed. And by doing this, we will gain the capacity and staff to help ATI doctors, ”he says.
This is bad news for all of Europe. So far, Germany has received COVID patients from neighboring countries whose health care systems are overwhelmed.
Anne Funk, head of the cross-border co-operation division in Germany’s smallest state, Saarland, which borders France, told CNN that during the first wave of the pandemic, hospitals there received 32 French patients. At the end of October, Saarland offered France eight beds; three patients have been transferred so far.
“We want to help wherever we can. We do not want to differentiate between nationalities. At present, we still have capabilities. We coordinate with medical and local authorities in France, depending on individual needs. We are here to help, “she said.
For the time being, the state can still have patients from abroad, but as ATI departments in Germany are rapidly crowding, no it is clear how long he will be able to do this.