Covid 19: When the ambulance fails to appear

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Paid corona tests, the end of the mask requirement, many corona patients: Germany is entering the next corona wave with little protection. Warn paramedics: Emergency care is no longer secure.

Must be there quickly in an emergency: ambulance on duty

During his night shift recently, every second assignment was for a corona case, says ambulance driver Tobias Thiele. “It's a tragedy.” The fire brigade paramedic works in the western German Rhine-Main region near Germany's largest airport, Frankfurt. Here, as elsewhere in Germany and Europe, the corona infections are rising again. But something is different in this wave: The swelling infection curve is now putting Germany's rescue workers under pressure. Paramedic Thiele is also the spokesman for the German fire brigade union and sounds the alarm: “We've been warning of the collapse in the rescue service for months, now it's here.”

Collapse of emergency rescue in Germany? The country is proud that rescue is at hand here within a very short time – regardless of whether it is a heart attack, stroke, accident or fire. But the Corona wave that is now swelling is the first with almost no protective measures: the obligation to wear masks has been lifted almost everywhere – in German supermarkets people are shopping again without mouth and nose protection.

Rescue workers on sick leave

And that in turn hits the rescue workers, says Tobias Thiele: They also get infected and call in sick. “Corona doesn't stop at our colleagues either. We're feeling that now,” says the paramedic in an interview with DW. During the past waves of infection, people would have protected themselves well, “then the effect wasn't that bad “: High number of infections, high sick leave among the emergency rescuers in Germany – and now the holiday season is added. Everywhere in Germany, “ambulances could not be manned every night because there were no staff,” says paramedic Thiele. 

Most recently, the fire brigade in the German capital Berlin warned: In the meantime there was not a single free ambulance. “The numbers are already dramatic: the Berlin fire brigade says yes, to date there have been around 170 days in Berlin when the so-called state of emergency was declared, which means: there was a maximum of one ambulance available for the whole of Berlin or even none at all “Another reason: The vehicles must be completely disinfected after each Corona operation. This will need time. The paramedics can only move out again after the intensive cleaning. And: Many of them are at the end of their strength after almost two and a half years of the pandemic.

  • Flight cancellations, queues: The flight chaos persists to

    Waiting in the crowd

    Queues, delays and cancellations: Anyone who wants to fly in Germany at the moment needs strong nerves – and a lot of time. Numerous passengers are waiting here at Düsseldorf Airport shortly after the start of the summer holidays in North Rhine-Westphalia. Chaos has reigned at German airports for weeks, mainly due to staff shortages at ground service providers and private security companies.

  • Flight cancellations, queues: The flight chaos continues

    Flight frustration instead of wanderlust

    The problem is homemade: During the corona pandemic, airlines and airport companies radically reduced staff – and are now overwhelmed with the surge in air traffic from almost zero to almost 90 percent of the pre-pandemic level. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr admitted that he had made mistakes in rescuing the company over the past two years and apologized.

  • Flight cancellations, queues: The flight chaos continues

    “Suitcase chaos” is likely to increase

    A quick improvement is not in sight, quite the opposite: the chaos is likely to increase during the main travel season in midsummer. EasyJet and Lufthansa canceled thousands of flights from their summer timetable last week. Other airlines are also canceling flights across Europe to relieve the overwhelmed system. The staff shortages are being exacerbated by the high number of new corona infections.

  • Flight cancellations, queues: The flight chaos continues

    Highlife at Heathrow

    The problem exists across Europe: travelers are crowded into London's Heathrow Airport. Around 5,000 passengers were stranded last week because 30 flights had to be canceled due to a luggage backlog. The situation is also likely to worsen in the UK, with British Airways workers calling for a strike at Heathrow during the summer holidays.

  • Flight cancellations, queues: the flight chaos continues

    Off to vacation?

    Labor disputes are also pending in other countries: the cabin crew of Ryanair and EasyJet in Spain have announced strikes for July. A strike announced for Wednesday at the Scandinavian airline SAS was initially postponed. The SAS management has been negotiating a collective agreement with the pilots for weeks. 

  • Flight cancellations, queues: the flight chaos continues

    Routine confusion

    At Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the largest in the Netherlands, chaos has almost become routine: due to a lack of staff, passengers often wait hours here before they are checked in. Schiphol therefore intends to reduce the number of passengers by around 13,500 per day over the summer months.

  • Flight cancellations, queues: The flight chaos continues

    Ampel wants help from abroad

    In Germany, the government is looking for solutions: Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (right) announced at a press conference on Wednesday that she intends to recruit helpers from abroad, especially from Turkey. In addition, the traffic light government wants to use the federal police for security checks at airports.

    Author: Nele Jensch


Germans feel this exhaustion in terms of staff in many areas of life in particular because there is a lack of staff there too. For example at the post office: letters are often delivered late in cities like Berlin. Or in air traffic, where sick leave exacerbates the staff shortage.

Corona protection rules abolished

A “cascade of corona-related events”, predicted the pandemic modeler and complexity researcher Dirk Brockmann from the Humboldt University in Berlin last winter at the beginning of the first omicron wave: the failure of important infrastructure because the staff is sick – like now with half a year Delay in the emergency services. Last winter, the strict corona rules still applied in Germany. In this way the worst chaos could be prevented. But now “the incidence is exploding,” Brockmann told DW, but the many diseases no longer appear in the statistics. “The number of unreported cases is high” because many corona patients can no longer be tested and simply get through the disease at home. However, only those corona cases that have been discovered with a positive PCR test in the laboratory are reported in Germany.

Watch the video 26:05

Covid-19 Special: Corona and the environment

At the turn of the month, the government also abolished the free rapid corona tests. They now cost three euros. That could discourage even more people from getting tested. The tests are valuable and important, said SPD Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on ZDF television. However, the costs for taxpayers for the previously free tests are too high. In addition, abuse by test centers must be limited.

Germany is moving through this corona wave without sufficient data – even more than in the waves before. Many experts had not expected the current wave until autumn, when more people would be indoors again during the cold season. For him it is clear, says physics professor Brockmann, that “a lot of virus is already floating around in the room”. The number of infections continues to rise and meanwhile the corona admissions to the hospitals are increasing again. 

Cities are pushing for the Infection Protection Act

Lots of virus, but little resistance: Even if they wanted to, many cities in Germany could not currently tighten protective measures such as the obligation to wear masks to protect their rescue workers. There is no new infection protection law. The German Association of Cities represents the municipalities in Berlin and calls on the federal government to pass the new Infection Protection Act before the summer break. A council of experts will evaluate the previous protective measures. The liberal governing party FDP had insisted that negotiations on new measures for the fall would only begin after the report had been submitted.

There is not much time: the German parliament will meet for the last time next week, then it will begin the summer break. Whether the ambulance with blue lights will reliably arrive in Germany this summer holiday in the event of an accident is uncertain.