The head of Germany's infectious disease institute said Thursday that while the COVID-19 threat in the country remains high, and some hospitals are reaching capacity, he is cautiously optimistic.
Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Lothar Wieler, president of Germany's Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, said the nation as of early Thursday had recorded 21,866 new cases of coronavirus infections in the previous 24 hours. According to Johns Hopkins University, Germany has reported nearly 750,000 cases since the pandemic began and more than 12,000 deaths.
Although infections continue to rise, he said, "what makes me cautiously optimistic is the fact that the number of cases has been increasing at a slightly slower rate for some days now. So, the curve is going up a little less steeply — it is flattening out."
Wieler said he did not know if that was a stable development that can continue. But he insisted it shows "we are not helplessly at the mercy of the virus," and measures the government has taken do make a difference.
On November 2, Germany implemented a four-week partial shutdown to bring the rate of new infections under control. Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities have closed, but schools and nonessential shops remain open.
Wieler noted that the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has doubled in the past two weeks. He added that the situation is likely to worsen before it improves.
"It is possible that patients may no longer be able to receive optimal care everywhere," he said. "We must therefore prevent the situation from worsening further. That is my expectation, and we are doing everything we can to achieve this goal."
Wieler said that nearly half of hospitals responding to his institute are reporting limited availability of ventilator treatment, mostly because of staffing issues caused by infections or quarantine.
Although Germany has enough beds and ventilators available nationwide, many German hospitals are currently "working at the limits of their capacity," said Uwe Janssens, president of Germany's Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine.
Janssens described a shortage of medical personnel trained to provide anesthesia- and ventilation-based treatments as a "key problem."
"Where it is medically justified, procedures must be halted and postponed," Janssens said, encouraging medical facilities' need to conserve resources.