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A doctor takes care of a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at the University Hospital of Aachen, western Germany
The German health care system has come under intense pressure as the number of cases in the country skyrocketedImage: Ina Fassebnder/AFP/Getty Images

German COVID death toll trebles in December

Alex Berry
January 2, 2021

Half of all coronavirus deaths in Germany were recorded in December. Doctors have pleaded for tougher measures to relieve the burden on the health system.


December was by far Germany's deadliest month in the coronavirus pandemic with a three-fold increase in the number of deaths since November.

Some 16,718 people were reported to have died from coronavirus between December 2 and January 1, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases. DW's tally allows for the fact that most deaths are made public the following day.

December's figure represents a massive surge in deaths since November when 6,155 deaths were recorded.

More than half of all coronavirus deaths in Germany were recorded in December. In total, 33,071 people in Germany died with or of COVID-19 in 2020.

Cases rising exponentially

Germany's death toll has risen exponentially over the past few months, increasing from just 198 in September.

Almost as many deaths were recorded in one day on December 30 — 1,129 — as in September and October combined.

Coronavirus cases in Germany also continued to surge with 675,188 recorded in December alone, with daily new infections going far beyond Chancellor Angela Merkel's ominous warning in September of 19,000 a day by Christmas.

As it turned out, Germany recorded 32,195 cases on Christmas Eve — almost 70% higher than the chancellor's prediction, according to the RKI.

Meanwhile, the total number of COVID-19 infections in 2020 reached 1,719,737 by the end of December.

Infections falling

While cases have begun to fall in some parts of the country, some states such as Saxony and parts of Bavaria, which were particularly badly hit in recent months, saw cases continuing to climb.

Susanne Johna, head of the Marburger Bund doctors' union, on Saturday urged an extension of the current lockdown, set to end on January 10.

"The health system desperately needs relief, which can only be achieved through an extension of the contact restriction measures. We won't be able to get the situation under control otherwise," she told newspapers of the Funke media group.

Ministers will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether to toughen the lockdown curbs.

Government slammed on vaccine procurement

Germany, along with other EU member states, began to roll out its vaccination program in December with the first individuals receiving the jab on December 26. By the end of December 131,626 people had been given their first dose of the vaccine.

Yet the German government has come under fire for failing to procure enough doses ahead of time. Unlike the UK and US, the EU has so far only authorized one vaccine — the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.

However, the block had only ordered 300 million doses in advance, in the expectation that other vaccines would also be available. The BioNTech founders have said they are trying to increase production, but face serious challenges.

Frauke Zipp of the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences on Saturday slammed lawmakers for their lack of foresight over vaccine procurement.

"I consider the current situation a gross failure," she told Die Welt newspaper. "Why didn't they order much more of the vaccine during the summer just to be safe?"

Johna, meanwhile, quashed hopes that the vaccine program would mean a speedy return to normal life.

"For all our optimism, we need to be clear that vaccinations are unlikely to relieve the burden of infection, at least in the first three months of the new year."