Germany’s Lufthaffe, the country’s military air force, has had to get involved in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic as cases soar to record levels and intensive care units struggle to cope with the patient load. The situation is boosting the prospects of a national lockdown.
With more than 76,000 infections on Friday — up from 52,970 new infections per day a week ago —, Europe’s largest economy has now become one of the worst affected by COVID-19.
On Thursday, the nation was the fifth — after Russia, the UK, Italy and France — to surpass 100,000 deaths from the virus.
It came amid warnings from hospitals, mainly in the south and the east, that intensive care units were filling to capacity.
Security forces on Friday confirmed the air force had fitted its planes with up to six ICU beds to transfer patients within Germany – another first since the pandemic began.
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Doctors were pictured loading patients onto aircraft at the main airport in Memmingen, Bavaria.
They labelled the planes “flying intensive care units”.
4,000 out of 22,000 available intensive care beds in Germany are occupied with coronavirus patients – an increase of 100 percent in a week.
85 percent of these need breathing assistance.
Their average age is between 50 and 79 years.
Meanwhile, the Greens’ co-leader and incoming Economy Minister Robert Habeck claimed: “Time is running out.
“We’re seeing a doubling in the infection rates every 12 days.
“Hospitals are already full.”
Prof Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s federal disease control agency, urged leaders to “trigger all measures” to reduce the incidence rate.
He said: “We are at a crossroads.”
Mr Spahn also addressed concerns over the detection of a new variant, the B.1.1.529, first detected in South Africa.
Preliminary studies suggest it may be more transmissible than any other so far.
Germany joined all other 26 EU member states in agreeing upon the need to temporarily suspend travel to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The announcement led to plummeting stocks across the bloc.
Britain, in a similar move, announced a temporary ban on flights from South Africa and several neighbouring countries, which resulted in the stock market seeing its biggest plunge in more than a year.