BERLIN – Germany is seeing a sharp jump in new coronavirus infections, raising fears the pandemic is picking up pace in a country that so far has coped better than many of its European neighbors.
The country's disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, on Thursday reported 4,058 new infections and 16 deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 310,144 since the start of the outbreak, with 9,578 deaths. That death toll is one-fourth of Britain's and one-third of the confirmed virus toll in Italy.
“I'm very concerned about this,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said of the latest numbers at a news conference in Berlin, which has become one of the infection hotspots.
He urged Germans to respect social distancing and hygiene measures to avoid reaching a point “where we lose control.”
The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar H. Wieler, echoed Spahn's concerns and warned that the daily number of new cases could rise above 10,000, as they have in several other European countries lately.
Wieler called it the “prevention paradox” that complacency had grown precisely because measures taken by authorities and the public since March had led to a comparatively low death rate.
Over the past month the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has doubled to about 450. While this is still far below the number receiving ICU treatment in April, officials noted that the figure is likely to rise as more older people become infected again.
Germany currently has 8,500 free intensive care beds and a further 12,000 that can be mobilized within seven days, should the number of serious cases rise suddenly, said Andreas Gassen, who heads the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians.
Earlier this year, as other European countries were reaching the limits of their ICU capacity, Germany took in dozens of foreign patients for treatment, including some from the Netherlands. A spokeswoman for the Dutch Health Ministry, Inge Freriksen, said Thursday that the government has asked Germany as a precautionary measure if it could again move some ICU patients to Germany if necessary.
Susanne Herold, who heads the department of infectious diseases at Giessen University Hospital and advises the German government, said one big difference compared to the first wave in spring is that clinicians now have a better understanding of how to treat severely ill patients.
Spahn, the health minister, played down the possibility Thursday of imposing a national lockdown, saying he preferred a regional measures.
But authorities in Germany this week urged people not to travel to and from regions with over 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, which includes the cities of Bremen, Remscheid, Hagen, Hamm and parts of Berlin.
Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.