The number of cases in Germany is similar to the UK, but three times as many people are ending up in intensive care, ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports.
Germany is set to mark 100,000 Covid deaths this week, a milestone other western European countries, including the UK and France, passed several months ago, as the EU's biggest economy struggles with rising coronavirus cases.
The country was praised at the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020 for keeping coronavirus cases lower than its neighbours, with many crediting a robust and decisive response from outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel that saw the country bring in early measures such as social-distancing regulations and aggressive testing.
But cases are rising as Europe races a fourth wave, with a drawn-out government transition following elections in September, a confusing array of pandemic rules, lax enforcement of them and a stalled vaccination programme all contributing to a spike in infections.
ICU in Germany are filling up with seriously ill Covid patients
Official figures on Monday showed more than 30,000 newly confirmed cases in Germany over the previous 24 hours - an increase of about 50% compared to a week ago.
Vaccination rates in Germany have stalled at 68% of the population, far short of the 75% or higher that the government had aimed for. Older people who got vaccinated early in 2021 are also seeing their immunity wear off, making them vulnerable to serious illness again, and authorities have struggled to meet demand for booster shots.
“Nobody had the guts to take the lead and announce unpopular measures,” Uwe Janssens, who heads the intensive care department at the St. Antonius hospital in Eschweiler, west of Cologne, told AP
“This lack of leadership is the reason we are here now,” he said.
“We’ve increasingly got younger people in intensive care,” he said.
“The amount of time they’re treated is significantly longer and it blocks intensive care beds for a longer period.”
Hospitals have warned that ICU capacities are nearly exhausted, with some patients having to be transferred to other clinics far away. In the first wave, Germany's well-funded health care system coped was able take patients from other countries, this time roles are reversed, with German hospitals pushed to the limit, healthcare workers in Munich have sent patients for treatment in Italy.
Prof Janssens said health service staff were "burned out" from the past 20 months.
"They want to experience a normal working day again. And we know very well that it won't be the case for weeks now."
The southern state of Bavaria announced on Friday that it is cancelling all Christmas markets this year, and closing bars and clubs for three weeks.
Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said regions with more than 1,000 new weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants would face even tougher restrictions, including the closure of all restaurants, sports and cultural venues
On Monday, health minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin: “By the end of this winter pretty much everyone in Germany...will have been vaccinated, recovered or died”.
Several European nations report hospitals at breaking point, while others are reinforcing strict measures. Austria went back into a nationwide lockdown on Monday, with mandatory vaccinations to be enforced from February, a move that some German politicians have suggested, either for specific professions or for the population as a whole.
Ms Merkel's likely successor, current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz of the centre-left Social Democrats, has refused to be drawn on whether he would back compulsory Covid-19 shots.
Earlier this month, German politicians approved new Covid measures to ban unvaccinated people from using public transport.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Europe is once again at the epicentre of the pandemic, as the relaxation of restrictions and unequal vaccination rollouts have brought the continent to a "critical point".
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