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German health minister: Coronavirus a 'worldwide pandemic'

March 4, 2020

Health Minister Jens Spahn has warned that the outbreak of COVID-19 has "not yet reached its peak in Germany." The number of cases in the country rose to 240 on Wednesday.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn
Image: Reuters/M. Tantussi

German Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday said that the new coronavirus has become a "worldwide pandemic" that has yet to "reach its peak" in Germany. 

As of Wednesday, Germany has confirmed 240 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease, up from 196 the day before. The infection has reached 15 of Germany's 16 federal states, with the highest concentration of cases in North Rhine-Westphalia, where there are 111 cases.

Read more: All Wednesday's developments in our rolling updates

Here's what else he said:

Authorities were aiming to slow and contain the spread of the virus, Spahn said, reiterating that:

  • "The health of the population takes precedence over economic interest."
  • "No one can seriously say when the peak will be reached. But it's important to say that it is coming, so that we can be prepared."
  • "In the current situation, it is particularly important that we remain level-headed, that we hold together, and that we're ready to trust each other, even under stress."

By characterizing the outbreak as a pandemic, Spahn breaks rank from the World Health Organization, who have thus far stopped short of classifying it as such. 

Read more: Will COVID-19 exacerbate drugs shortage in Germany?

The health minister said it was important to remain flexible to and allocate resources as needed. Health workers could be allocated to the "most acute cases," he said. Closing schools and kindergartens would remain an option to be used as needed.

"The next days and weeks will be challenging. There will be restrictions on everyday life in affected areas and that can cause some stress," Spahn said.

The current situation

Earlier on Wednesday, the German government had banned the export of medical gear and adjusted a national travel advisory to warn of an "elevated quarantine risk" associated with cruise ship travel.

German authorities had been relatively successful at containing an initial outbreak in Bavaria in January that was linked back to a Chinese visitor. But the virus has proven harder to control after unrelated cases emerged and spread in North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Wurttemberg.

Globally, over 93,000 cases have been confirmed across 75 countries, resulting in over 3,000 deaths thus far. 

kp/rt (dpa, AFP)

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