Left blank because the coronavirus pandemic canceled events, Berlin’s Messe exhibition center is getting a makeover with the help of German soldiers – to reappear as a hospital in a few weeks.
Wires still hang from the ceilings, but when construction is complete, the huge site can accommodate up to 1,000 patients.
Even as Germany begins to ease pressure on public life to stop the contamination with the virus, authorities are busy increasing their capacity to deal with a second wave of infections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned that Germany should not rest on its laurels, even if the infection rate has fallen, saying it is still “on thin ice”.
Virologist Christian Drosten of Charite Hospital in Berlin has also warned that the virus could return with a “completely different force”.
“The virus will continue to spread in the coming weeks and months,” Drosten told public broadcaster NDR, adding that a second wave would be dangerous because it could pop up “anywhere at once.”
“Maybe we are completely wasting our lead,” he said, warning against complacency.
So, Germany, which has received international acclaim for its widespread testing system and enormous patient treatment capacity, is still deploying massive resources to increase the number of intensive care beds with fans.
In the university hospital in Aachen, near the Dutch border, dozens of beds are empty when things revive.
“We are ready to respond dynamically,” said Gernot Marx, director of hospital intensive care who treated some of the first serious cases earlier this year.
“We have not yet had to decide (to treat one patient over another) … because of the high bed capacity and good preparation,” added fellow physician Anne Bruecken. ‘I hope it stays this way’.
Nearly 13,000 of Germany’s 32,000 intensive care beds remained vacant at the last count.
From the onset of the crisis, Germany had much more breathing space than its European neighbors, with 33.9 intensive care beds per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 8.6 in Italy and 16.3 in France.
And since then, the capacity for intensive care and screening has expanded drastically.
“Germany is prepared for a possible second wave,” said Gerald Gass, president of the German Hospitals Society (DKG).
“In the coming months, we plan to keep about 20 percent of our beds free with breathing support, and we want to be able to free up another 20 percent within 72 hours … if a second wave comes,” Gass told AFP.
Europe’s largest economy currently has a 3.5 percent death rate from the coronavirus, with the latest figures from 150,383 confirmed cases with 5,321 fatalities.
While that figure is rising, it remains well below that of other countries such as Spain or Italy, where the mortality rate fluctuates by 10 percent.
With the German health system still overloaded, Gass has called on hospitals to slowly return to treating patients whose cases have been suspended during the crisis, as they are expected to need less time-consuming operations.
“In general, our hospitals are now less busy than usual,” he said.
Berlin’s current strategy is to pursue a step-by-step return to normality, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of tests per week.
Merkel has said that the goal is to return to a stage where the number of contamination cases is low enough to trace and isolate contact chains to prevent flare-ups elsewhere.
To this end, a contact tracing app is expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Masks are now also required on public transportation across the country and, in some states, also in stores.
“We have now learned that the dynamic development of infections puts a direct burden on the health system,” says Gass.
“That means we have to use tests to quickly identify the effect of removing restrictions step by step.”
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