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Germany is setting up new coronavirus measures in cities


Germany today put tough new measures in place in its largest cities as hospitals warned of staff shortages in an alarming spike in coronavirus cases.

Angela Merkel and the mayors of 11 cities, including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, have agreed the new rules, including curfews and outside masks that apply when a city happens 50 cases per 100,000 in a week.

Cities can also send in the German military to help trace contacts under the new measures package.

Berlin, which recently became an infection hotspot, is already over the threshold after more than 1,600 new cases in the last week.

"These are the days and weeks that will determine the form in which Germany will survive the winter in this pandemic," Merkel said today, adding that her "top priority" was to keep the economy open.

In Germany, cases have risen to more than 4,000 a day for the first time since April, which has sparked renewed concerns about how to treat the epidemic this winter

In Germany, deaths are still low, despite having crept in from the very low summer levels. Around 80 people are currently dying each week

In Germany, deaths are still low, despite having crept in from the very low summer levels. Around 80 people are currently dying each week

Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks today after agreeing on a package of new measures with the mayors of Germany's eleven largest cities, including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich

Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks today after agreeing on a package of new measures with the mayors of Germany's eleven largest cities, including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich

Infection rates in the largest cities in Germany

Germany’s eleven largest cities will take stricter measures if they exceed the threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week.

The current rates according to the Robert Koch Disease Institute (RKI) are as follows:

FRANKFURT: 56 cases per 100,000

BREMEN: 54

BERLIN: 51

COLOGNE: 50

EAT: 48

STUTTGART: 44

MUNICH: 42

HAMBURG: 30

DUESSELDORF: 26

DORTMUND: 26

LEIPZIG: 12

According to the text agreed by Merkel and the mayors, the new measures would include:

  • An "extension" of the mandatory wearing of masks in public spaces where social distance cannot be maintained, including outdoors
  • Curfews and alcohol sales restrictions in bars and restaurants
  • Reducing the number of people admitted to events or private gatherings
  • At a rate of 35 per 100,000, cities can send the military and experts from the RKI to deal with the epidemic

After weeks of soaring infections in Germany, concern has increased this week after daily cases rose to more than 4,000 a day for the first time since April.

While hospital cases and deaths have risen only slightly, the average age of newly infected patients has risen again in recent weeks.

The 66-year-old Merkel said it was still possible to get the pandemic under control in Germany, adding that the restrictions were painful.

"Everything will come back (one day) – party, go out, have fun without the coronavirus rules," said the Chancellor.

“But I am also convinced that we have come to a point where it must be clear what is important for us this autumn and winter and where we have to set priorities.

"My top priority is – if at all possible – not to have to restrict economic and public life again as was necessary in the spring," she said.

Schools should stay open as much as possible, she added.

The new package of measures allows cities to call for military aid to support their coronavirus response if 35 per 100,000 cases occur in a week.

If they cross the 50 per 100,000 threshold, cities will introduce new measures, including stricter masking rules in public when social distancing is not an option.

There could also be stricter restrictions on private gatherings, as well as curfews on pubs and restaurants and restrictions on alcohol sales.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), some cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Bremen have already exceeded this threshold.

The city administration will have the last word on the measures, but Merkel will speak to the eleven mayors again in two weeks to see if their rules have been effective.

"We have proven that we can stand up against the virus together, and we should do that again," said Merkel.

Germany has been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic after the death toll was well below that of the UK, France, Spain or Italy.

However, the increasing number of infections in cities has meant that fears that hospitals will be overwhelmed in the well-equipped German health system are being overcome.

Queues around the block: People are lining up in front of a doctor's office today to receive a coronavirus test in Berlin, as the test capacity that Germany has been praising is starting to feel the strain

Queues around the block: People are lining up in front of a doctor's office today to receive a coronavirus test in Berlin, as the test capacity that Germany has been praised for is starting to feel the strain

Cases have risen in numerous European countries, with the Netherlands becoming a major new hotspot, although the real picture was likely worse in the spring when testing was limited

Cases have risen in numerous European countries, with the Netherlands becoming a major new hotspot, although the real picture was likely worse in the spring when testing was limited

Berlin Mayor Michael Müller told reporters today that large gatherings must be avoided and people must take precautionary measures in public transport.

"We have to prevent a lockdown," he said.

Hospitals have warned of increasing numbers of doctors, nurses and support staff getting sick and incapacitating them when they are most needed.

In the Frankfurt University Clinic, twice as many employees have been infected with the virus in the past two weeks than in the three months before, said the Medical Director Jürgen Graf.

"This will be the bottleneck in nursing," he said.

Ulrich Frei, head of medical care at Berlin's Charite Hospital, said more employees would have to be quarantined if the cases were to multiply quickly.

Germany has lots of ventilators and intensive care beds, but a shortage of staff could be a more pressing problem, he said.

"The very core of the situation is not having enough caregivers," he said.

Non-essential operations and treatments for non-coronavirus patients have to be postponed in the Charite due to the shortage.

Germany is also feeling the strain on testing capacity, as the laboratories in Berlin's major cities are working almost at their maximum.

The country has a daily capacity of around 230,000 tests, but there are limits to how far this can be expanded, said an association of German laboratories.

Restrictions have already occurred on domestic travel and mandatory tests are required for hotel guests arriving from risk areas.

In Berlin there were long waiting times outside the doctor's office when travelers tried to get tested.

In France, daily cases rose to record levels, and hospital beds filled with hotspots like Paris, where bars were closed and restaurants were forced to take additional measures

In France, daily cases rose to record levels, and hospital beds filled with hotspots like Paris, where bars were closed and restaurants were forced to take additional measures

France's death rate is still far lower than it was in the spring, although the average number has increased from 20 a month ago to 72 per day

The death rate in France is still far lower than it was in the spring, although the average number has increased from 20 a month ago to 72 per day

Italy makes outdoor masks mandatory

Italy has made it mandatory to wear face masks outdoors as new infections hit their highest daily number since April.

The decree was passed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday after a steady increase in cases over the past two months.

Several Italian regions, including Lazio around the capital Rome, had already prescribed face masks.

In addition, Health Minister Roberto Speranza has ordered mandatory tests for travelers from the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

The cabinet also passed a decree on Wednesday to extend the state of emergency until January 31 so that ministers can act faster.

Italy today saw more than 5,000 new cases for the first time since April, after seeing less than 3,000 for five months as of Wednesday.

There are a total of 343,770 cases and 36,111 deaths in the country, resulting in one of the toughest lockdowns in the world to end the contagion in March and April.

While Germany is trying to fend off a second wave, France is already in the middle. Around 80,000 new cases are discovered every week.

On Thursday, four other cities – Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne – were raised to the maximum alert level, which already covers Paris and Marseille.

In these locations, bars are closed and restaurants are required to take additional security measures, including keeping a minimum space between tables and registering customer addresses to notify them when other patrons test positive.

France set a new record of 18,746 cases in 24 hours on Wednesday, although the actual numbers were likely higher in the spring when tests were limited.

More worryingly, the number of hospitalized patients has been the highest in three months and pressure is mounting on hospital wards in Paris and other cities.

France's death rate is still far lower than it was in the spring, although the average number has increased from 20 a month ago to 72 per day.

"Unfortunately, the health situation in France continues to deteriorate," Health Minister Olivier Veran told the nation on a live broadcast.

"Every day in France more and more people are infected, more and more sick and more and more suffering from serious consequences that require hospitalization," he said.

Veran said the pressure on Parisian hospitals is increasing every day as Covid patients occupy more intensive care beds and other procedures fall by the wayside.

The Paris health authority warned of a "great wave of cases" and urged hospitals to face an emergency and mobilize additional doctors.

"We have to throw all our armed forces into battle," said agency chief Aurelien Rousseau.

On Wednesday, 455 intensive care beds in Paris and its suburbs were occupied by Covid patients – more than 40 percent of the total.

According to a French media report, the number should rise to 85 percent by mid-November, citing a confidential report to Emmanuel Macron.

In Italy, the first western country to be hit by Covid-19, cases have risen again, albeit not as much as in the UK, Spain or France

In Italy, the first western country to be hit by Covid-19, cases have risen again, albeit not as much as in the UK, Spain or France

Italy's deaths also remain small: for the past week, typically 24 people died per day, compared to the hundreds per day at the height of the crisis in March and April

Italy's deaths also remain small: for the past week, typically 24 people died per day, compared to the hundreds per day at the height of the crisis in March and April

Spain enforces a new ban on Madrid

The Spanish government has declared a state of emergency to force Madrid to take new lockdown measures today.

The move comes after weeks of clashes between the left Spanish government and the conservative regional authorities in Madrid.

The state of emergency removes control of health measures from Madrid authorities and forces them to restore travel restrictions, which were lifted by a regional court on Thursday.

The Madrid region's 14-day infection rate of 563 coronavirus cases per 100,000 population is more than twice the national average of 256 in Spain and five times the European average.

The measures prohibit non-essential trips to and from the capital and nine of its suburbs, affecting around 4.8 million people.

Restaurants must close at 11 p.m. and shops at 10 p.m. Both must limit the occupancy to 50 percent of their capacity.

"Protecting the health of the people of Madrid is essential," said Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa.

The resistance in Madrid reflects the troubles the French government faced last month when it closed bars and restaurants in Marseille, where elected city and regional authorities reacted with anger.

In Italy, daily cases have returned to levels last seen in April, although the number of infections is still much lower than in Spain, France or the UK.

Italy, the first western country to be hit by Covid-19, is keen to avoid a new lockdown after the economic devastation of March and April.

While Paris and Brussels have closed bars and the UK has limited pub opening times, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has announced that bars there will remain open.

However, a new external mask mandate went into effect on Wednesday, with fines of up to € 1,000 for anyone who breaks the rules.

Even at home, Conte urged Italians to keep their distance from relatives, as most new infections occur in families.

"The state cannot ask citizens to wear masks in their own four walls," said Conte. “But we have a strong recommendation for all citizens: we have to be careful in our families too.

"We have to be stricter because we want to avoid more restrictive measures for production and social activities at all costs," said Conte.

Italy has expanded testing capacity to around 120,000 a day, double what it did in the spring, but experts say it may need to raise the level further.

The Vatican, following Italy's strict spring and summer lockdown, also issued a mandate for outdoor masks in the tiny city-state this week.

In other countries, the Netherlands has become a new hotspot as the Dutch test-and-trace system cannot keep up with rising infections.

A surge in new cases has catapulted the per capita infection rate into the top 10 in the world, with a weekly infection rate of around 160 cases per 100,000 people.

"We don't have our basic infrastructure in order," said health professor Jochen Mierau this week.

"There is a shortage of tests while Germany has more than enough to even test people with no symptoms."

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