ARCHIV - 17.11.2021, Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart: Eine Krankenpflegerin betritt einen abgetrennten Bereich für Covid-19 Patienten einer Intensivstation des Klinikum Stuttgart. Weil immer mehr Mitarbeiter wegen Krankheit ausfallen, können viele Krankenhäuser im Südwesten weniger Betten für Patienten nutzen. (zu dpa: «Krankheitsfälle belasten Kliniken - Teils werden Eingriffe verschoben») Foto: Marijan Murat/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

The number of new infections in Germany is significantly higher than last summer. Although the courses of most Covid 19 diseases are mild, the number of corona patients in German clinics is twice as high as a year ago. The clinics are primarily struggling with high levels of sick leave and because they have to do without staff who are in quarantine.

A heated argument has now broken out between Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and the chairman of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, over the question of quarantine.

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The CEO of the German Hospital Society (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told the newspapers of the Funke media group that although the proportion of intensive care patients among those suffering from Covid-19 was significantly lower than in summer 2021, the absolute number of patients was “twice as high as in the same time last year”.

According to Gass, around 1,300 patients with Covid-19 are currently being treated in intensive care units and around 17,000 in normal wards in German hospitals. Compared to last week, the numbers increased by 7.7 and 15.4 percent. “The figures make it clear that autumn can again be an extreme test for the clinics.”

The seven-day incidence in Germany was recently over 700 – but experts have been assuming that the actual corona cases are significantly underreported for some time. Gass said: “Nevertheless, the increasing number of patients who have tested positive for corona are not the main concern in hospitals at the moment.”

The main problems are the high level of sick leave among employees and absences due to corona infections and quarantine. “In many hospitals, operations that can be planned have therefore had to be postponed and entire areas have to be temporarily signed off.”

In this situation, KBV boss Gassen called for all corona isolation and quarantine requirements to be lifted in order to alleviate staff shortages. “The isolation and quarantine obligations should be lifted until further notice, which would alleviate the shortage of staff in many places.”

“We do the same with other infectious diseases such as the flu,” emphasized Gassen. The number of infections has been very high for months. And since fewer tests are carried out at the same time, “we can also assume hundreds of thousands of undetected infections per day,” said the KBV boss. “But: The courses are almost always mild.”

The problem is “not the many infections, but that those who test positive stay at home for several days even without symptoms and are sent into isolation,” said Gassen. This would result in “staff shortages in the clinics and elsewhere”.

Gassen pleaded in the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung” to see the omicron mutant “almost as a ‘peace offer of the virus'”. Anyone who gets infected after triple vaccination “even benefits from an infection by acquiring mucosal immunity”. Those who have been vaccinated are well protected against severe courses.

However, nobody should actively become infected, said the KBV boss. “But we cannot hide from the virus permanently. And we are the last country in Europe that is still so excitedly discussing a corona emergency.”

The Federal Minister of Health immediately contradicted Gassen. “Infected people have to stay at home,” countered Lauterbach on Twitter. “Otherwise, not only will the number of cases increase even more, but the workplace itself will become a safety risk.”

The ministry said that a further shortening of the deadlines for the possibilities of free testing would currently make “no sense”. The current recommendations were a reaction to worsening personnel situations in the spring, it said.

The President of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, also opposed the initiative of the KBV chairman. “From a medical point of view, the lifting of quarantine rules for labor market reasons is not justifiable,” he told the “Rheinische Post”. “Our task is to protect people from illness, suffering and death and not to force sick people to work.”

The Patient Protection Foundation also opposed Gassen’s initiative. “The end does not justify all means,” explained Eugen Brysch, board member of the foundation. “In addition, infected adults almost always have symptoms.” Brysch also referred to the risk of long and post-Covid.