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Coronavirus digest: Germany ICU capacity at 'critical' level

An intensive care doctor has warned that only five to 10% of intensive care beds are still available in parts of Germany. Meanwhile, 28,438 new cases have been reported over the past 24 hours. Follow DW for the latest.

A hospital unit in Berlin

An intensive care doctor has warned that if Germany's COVID caseload continues to rise, ICUs face the risk of collapse

Germany is at risk of a shortage of intensive care unit (ICU) beds  if the coronavirus caseload continues to rise, according to Uwe Janssens, an intensive care doctor and a member of the German Association of Critical Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI).

In terms of ICU capacity, Janssens told DW that  the situation was "quite critical"  in some hospitals across the country.

"We have areas where the ICU capacity just has left 5 to 10% open beds. That's not enough to cover the broad range of severely ill patients," he said.

Currently, hospitals were still able to help people, Jansens said. But if infections continued to rise, "it won't work anymore." He also raised concerns about Germany's elderly who have particularly high infection and mortality rates: "Even when they come on the intensive care units over the age of 70 or 80, the mortality in intensive care units is above 80%."

Janssens said medical professionals in ICUs across Germany were under intense pressure.

"The burden is very high, the pressure is very high. The psychological and physical stress for the health care workers is immense."

Watch video 02:36

COVID-19 in Germany: Medical workers near their limit

Germany has added 28,438 new coronavirus infections, along with 496 deaths, over the past 24 hours, according to the latest figures released by the Robert Koch Institute Saturday. The number is down slightly from Friday's record measure of 29,875 cases in 24 hours.

The seven-day index in Germany is currently at 163 cases per 100,000 people. Health authorities are aiming for 50 cases per 100,000 before restrictions on public life can be relaxed.

Global

The World Health Organization (WHO) has appealed to people to carefully think about their Christmas plans and New Year's celebrations.

"The festive season is a time to relax and celebrate but... celebration can very quickly turn to sadness if we fail to take the right precautions," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

"Please consider your plans carefully. If you live in an area with high transmission, please take every precaution to keep yourselves and others safe... That could be the best gift you could give, the gift of health," Tedros said, warning that the global death rate from COVID-19 had accelerated by 60% in the past six weeks.

Europe

France will allow ski resorts to reopen on January 7 if the COVID-19 situation allows.

"January 7 is a possibility, as long as conditions allow this," French junior foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said on France's BFM television channel. 

Spain is also set to open several ski stations from next week. The privately owned Baqueira Beret in the Pyrenees announced it would open on Monday, though it would limit the number of skiers to maintain social distancing rules. Ski workers in the Aragon region are planning a protest on Saturday to urge their regional government to reopen slopes to save their jobs.

German carmaker Volkswagen intends to close one of its plants due to coronavirus infections among staff members.

"The measure takes effect from the night shift Monday to Tuesday," a Volkswagen spokesman said of the plant in the northern city of Braunschweig (sometimes called Brunswick in English). The duration of the shutdown has not been disclosed. Thousands of people are expected to be affected.

Watch video 03:21

Nuremberg goes into holiday season lockdown

Another economic stimulus program in Germany during the coronavirus crisis will probably not be necessary, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the German Editorial Network on Saturday.

"If the pandemic doesn't get completely out of control, we will not need another economic stimulus package," said Altmaier. "The German economy  is strong enough, we just must not burden it with unnecessary bureaucracy or talk of additional taxes."

Economic stimulus programs will be adopted only in the case of a possible prolonged recession. "After the severe crash in the second quarter, we had a picture-perfect recovery in the third quarter, we saw a storybook recovery," he said. "The self-healing powers of our economy are working."

Americas

The US’s first COVID-19 vaccine will begin arriving in states Monday morning. Trucks will roll out Sunday  as shipping companies UPS and FedEx begin delivering the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the country, announced Army General Gustave Perna of the Trump administration's vaccine development program, Operation Warp Speed.

A further 425 sites will receive shipments Tuesday, and the remaining 66 on Wednesday.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday authorized theBioNTech-Pfizer vaccine  for use nationwide.

The mass-inoculation campaign comes as the US reels under surging coronavirus case numbers and fatalities.

The first shots are expected to go to health care workers and elderly people living in nursing homes. Perna said health authorities would decide who would receive the first vaccinations. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory committee is expected to recommend who will be first in line. 

Shortly after the authorization was announced, US President Donald Trump hailed it as a "medical miracle," adding that the vaccine is "very safe."

The US Senate has unanimously approved a one-week extension of federal funding to avoid a government shutdown and to allow more time for separate negotiations on COVID-19 relief. President  Donald Trump is expected to sign the extension into law. Congress now will focus on passing a $1.4 trillion (roughly €1.16 trillion) bill to continue federal operations until September 2021.

Watch video 01:27

Time running out for America's COVID-19 aid package

Peru has temporarily suspended clinical trials of a vaccine made by Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm, after detecting neurological problems in one of its test volunteers.

The National Institute of Health said Friday that it had decided to interrupt the trial after a volunteer showed difficulty moving their arms, according to local media. 

The volunteer displayed symptoms that could correspond to a condition called Guillan-Barre syndrome, chief researcher German Malaga said. Guillan-Barre syndrome is a rare and non-contagious disorder that affects the movement of the arms and legs. 

60,000 people across the globe have already taken the Sinopharm vaccine, including volunteers in Argentina, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Asia

South Korea reported its highest daily number of cases so far, with 950 new infections in one day. 

Around 669 were reported in the greater Seoul area on Saturday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The new count takes the total number of reported cases in the country to more than 36,800. 

An Indonesian cleric turned himself in to authorities after he was accused of inciting people to breach pandemic restrictions by holding events with large crowds. 

Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, arrived at Jakarta police headquarters a day after police warned they would arrest him after he ignored several summonses.

"With God's permission, I can come to the Jakarta police for an investigation according to the laws and regulations,'' he said ahead of questioning.

He is accused of holding an event to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad's birthday and the wedding of his daughter, which brought in thousands of his supporters. He could face up to six years in prison if found guilty of inciting people to violate health regulations.

Watch video 02:23

Virtual weddings take off in Indonesia amid coronavirus pandemic

Tokyo reported a record of 621 new virus cases, bringing the total in Japan to over 174,000 since the start of the pandemic. Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan task force say serious cases are on the rise, putting the burden on hospitals and forcing many of them to scale back on care for other patients.

Japan has also recorded around 2,500 deaths due to the virus. 

mvb/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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