German health officials have warned that the country’s third wave of coronavirus disease could be the worst yet and will place the country’s hospitals under severe strain if left unchecked.
There are “clear signs” that the third wave that Germany currently is in “could be even worse than the first two waves,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for Infectious Diseases, at a joint news conference with health minister Jens Spahn on Friday.
Wieler said there could be as many as 100,000 new coronavirus disease cases daily if the situation isn’t contained.
The number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 21,573 on Friday, according to the RKI, while the death toll increased by 183.
Spahn said the health system could reach its limit by April as infections rise. “At the moment, the figures are rising too fast and the variants are making the situation especially dangerous,” he said, DW reported. “If this continues unchecked, we run the risk of our health system could reach its breaking point in April.”
Earlier in the week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the more contagious variant of coronavirus, the B117 variant first detected in the U.K., has now become the dominant strain in Germany, and she described it as a “new pandemic.”
“Essentially, we have a new virus…it is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer,” Merkel said, as she announced a strict lockdown over the Easter holiday period.
Merkel reversed the decision a day later, calling it “a mistake,” after coming under widespread criticism from business leaders and scientists.
Spahn also said a requirement for all airline passengers entering Germany to provide a negative coronavirus test would come into force from midnight on Monday and last until May 12.
Germany’s warning came just hours after France placed three more regions into strict lockdowns from Friday for the next month, including the area around the city of Lyon, as it also moved to control the third wave of coronavirus disease that is sweeping across Europe. Last week, France announced a month-long lockdown in 16 regions, including the zone around Paris.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating almost everywhere in France,” said health minister Olivier Véran, at a news conference on Thursday, according to Reuters. “The pressure on the hospital system will continue in this new wave. We’re well into it…and nowhere near out of it,” he added.
Rising numbers of infections have also prompted Belgium to reintroduce strict measures, with the government saying on Wednesday that schools would close and residents would have limited access to nonessential businesses.
Poland is also battling a surge in new infections, prompting the government to extend coronavirus restrictions for the two-week period surrounding Easter, as it warned that the healthcare system risks being overrun.
Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday that the third wave of COVID-19 that has hit Europe will “wash up on our shores as well.”
The spike in new cases comes amid growing anger at the slow pace of vaccinations across the European Union, which has been exacerbated by delayed deliveries, as well as the suspension in several countries of the use of the vaccine from drug company AstraZeneca
following reports of blood clot concerns.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said AstraZeneca must “catch up” and honor the contract it has with the EU member states before it is allowed to export vaccines to other countries.
Speaking at a news conference following a virtual summit of EU leaders on Thursday, von der Leyen said the trading bloc wanted to make sure it gets its “fair share” of vaccines.
“Because we must be able to explain to our citizens that if companies export their vaccines to the whole world, it is because they are fully honoring their commitments and it does not risk security of supply in the European Union,” she said in an accompanying statement.