Germany, which was once an example of the fight against the epidemic, is now facing the fourth wave of Covid-19, with the number of new infections hitting a record high because millions of people refuse to be vaccinated.
Giessen University Hospital, one of Germany’s leading lung disease examination and treatment institutions, is operating at full capacity because the number of Covid-19 patients has recently tripled. Nearly half of people need ventilators, and almost all of them have not been vaccinated.
“I asked them why they didn’t get vaccinated?” Dr. Susanne Herold, the head of the infectious disease department, said after a briefing on November 11. “These people don’t believe in vaccines, they don’t trust the government, and it’s often difficult to convince them through propaganda.”
The anti-vaccine criticized by Dr. Herold is considered to be the main reason for the fourth wave of Covid-19 in Germany, with thousands of new infections every day, the highest level so far since the outbreak.
For Germany, this was an unexpected plunge. When Covid-19 first appeared, Germany set an example for Europe and the world in its ability to respond to a pandemic, when Germany consistently kept the death toll at a low level.
But now, multiple factors have contributed to the surge in the number of infections, such as low winter temperatures, slow deployment of government-enhanced vaccines, or a significant increase in cases in eastern countries (neighboring Europe, usually the Czech Republic). On the other hand, Germany is still in the process of transferring power between the old government and the new government. This is certainly not helpful in fighting the epidemic.
However, virologists and disease experts say that unvaccinated people are the biggest cause of the fourth wave of infections that are straining hospital systems across the country.
“That’s because the vaccination rate is very low. We haven’t really done what needs to be done,” Dr. Herrod said. She is part of a team of scientists who simulated the impact of the fourth Covid-19 wave and warned earlier this summer that at least 85% of the German population needs to be vaccinated due to the super infectious Delta strain . May destroy the health system.
“The vaccination rate in Germany is still below 70%,” she said. “I don’t know how we will win this game in the fourth outbreak. I’m afraid we have already lost.”
Vaccine coverage in Germany is still significantly higher than in many Central and Eastern European countries, where the death toll from Covid-19 has soared. In Romania, only about 40% of people received two injections, and the death toll from Covid-19 continues to rise to a new record.
However, since about one-third of the population, or more than 27 million people, are not fully vaccinated, Germany’s vaccination rate is one of the lowest in Western Europe. In Belgium, Denmark, and Italy, three-quarters of people were vaccinated. In Spain and Iceland, only about one-fifth of the population has not received a second shot. The vaccination rate in Portugal is close to 90%.
German Health Minister Jens Spann said at the beginning of last month: “The first thing we are experiencing is an unvaccinated epidemic.”
The number of infections has increased sharply in some areas of the two wealthy southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg, where there are noisy protests against the anti-epidemic measures known as “Querdenker” or “opposition.”
“We are facing two viruses, nCoV and this spreading poison,” Baravia Governor Markus Söder said in a recent televised debate, referring to misinformation and vaccine bias.
Klaus-Peter Hanke was one of the first to experience the virulence of the anti-vaccination wave. He is the mayor of Pirna, a small town with a population of less than 40,000 in the eastern German state of Saxony. In the last few days of the lockdown last spring, this place witnessed violent protests against vaccinators.
Nearly 50% of Pirna residents refuse to be vaccinated, making Saxony the state with the lowest vaccination rate and the highest number of new infections per capita in Germany.
“The level of vaccination preparation here is very low,” Mayor Hank said in an interview. “We tried to solve this problem through dialogue, but we hit the wall and couldn’t go any further. As a result, the situation got worse.”
“The hospital’s Covid-19 treatment area is about to run out of beds. About 90% of the patients there have not yet been vaccinated,” he said.
At the same time, some restaurants in the town still post signs that they are ready to welcome “everyone”, including guests who have not been vaccinated. The authorities currently have 10 control teams, each consisting of a policeman, a health officer and an employee of the Public Order Bureau, responsible for fines for restaurants, bars, and hair salons that fail to comply with epidemic prevention regulations. When a violation was discovered, the business owner was fined 500 Euros (approximately US$572) and the client had to pay 150 Euros (US$170).
“This measure is quite severe. But we have no other way to make people change their behavior,” Hank emphasized.
At least it works. In the past week, the waiting time at mobile vaccination sites has increased to two hours, indicating that isolation from daily life seems to have prompted more people to be vaccinated.
Several other German states are also implementing similar regulations, introducing stricter regulations on masks, and requiring people to show proof of vaccination or nCoV infection when visiting multiple locations, instead of only requiring test strips to be negative as before.
But according to Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology at Frankfurt University Hospital, these actions may not be enough in the context of the current epidemic.
Ciesek and some famous German scientists last week called on the government to take other drastic measures, such as partial blockade of unvaccinated areas, and even short-term blockades across the country when needed.
With more than 50,000 new infections per day, the lack of leadership at the national level has made the situation worse.
Since German Chancellor Merkel’s Conservative Party lost the national election in September, she has served as the interim leader of the government, while her potential successor Olaf Schultz has swept through political turmoil. The other two parties engaged in difficult negotiations to form a ruling coalition.
“Where is Angela Merkel?”, “Where is Schultz?”, Der Spiegel asked in a recent article.
This is also the concern of many virologists across the country, that is, the lack of political leadership is wasting precious time, and the cost may be people’s lives.
Michael Meyer-Hellmann, head of the Department of Systemic Immunology at the Helmholtz Infection Research Center and member of the private expert panel, said: “There is no central authority and no real responsibility. This country lacks leadership.” For German Chancellor Merck You provide advice and comments on the epidemic. “The outgoing government no longer really takes action, and the outgoing government downplays it.”
After the daily number of new infections hit a record high on November 3, reaching 33,949 people, German virologists sounded the alarm. But Schultz’s partners in the future ruling coalition announced that there would be no more blockades.
“For me, now is a critical moment,” Professor Meyer-Hermann said. “They acted as if the pandemic was over, but the number of infections was soaring.”
Wu Huang (follow New York Times)