UPDATE: Germany reports first two coronavirus deaths

Two people have died of the novel coronavirus in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, officials said Monday, the country's first casualties of the outbreak.

UPDATE: Germany reports first two coronavirus deaths
A sign for the district of Heinsberg. Photo: DPA

In the city of Essen, an 89-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with the virus on March 3rd died from pneumonia.

In the district of Heinsberg, which has become a coronavirus hotspot after an infected couple attended carnival festivities there, a 78-year-old man died of heart failure.

Like the elderly woman, the man suffered from pre-existing conditions including diabetes and heart problems.

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

He was hospitalised on Friday, Heinsberg district administrator Stephan Pusch told reporters, adding that he was “moved and saddened” by the death.

Essen mayor Thomas Kufen meanwhile issued a statement offering his condolences to the woman's family and friends.

“I regret this death very much,” he said.

Both Essen and Heinsberg are located in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state which has 515 confirmed coronavirus cases out of a total of 1,167 countrywide as at Monday afternoon.

A total of 323 cases have been reported in Heinsberg alone, 15 of them currently in hospital.

The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus on Monday passed 1,000 in Europe's top economy Germany.

The first death of a German national from the coronavirus was reported on Sunday evening.

The 60-year-old man had tested positive for the virus after he was hospitalized in Egypt – which he had entered a week prior – with a high fever. It has not yet clear where the man, who was in the country on holidays, had initially become infected.

Germany has suffered a comparatively light toll in relation to European Union neighbours, namely in hard-hit Italy, where 366 people have died of the virus and there are thousands of confirmed cases.

“Here in Germany we are ahead in diagnostics, in detection,” Christian Drosten, director of the Institute for Virology at Berlin's Charite hospital said earlier Monday in the capital.

“The most effective tool against coronavirus is the time factor, slowing down its spread and spreading it over a longer period of time,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

She also reiterated government advice on measures such as avoiding bodily contact to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: The everyday precautions to take if you're in Germany


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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”