Germany declares coronavirus outbreak a 'global pandemic'
A medical employee talks with people waiting outside the new medical examination department on the grounds of the Charite university hospital's campus Virchow in Berlin, where patients seeking help in connection with the novel coronavirus can get tested. AFP
The coronavirus outbreak has turned into "a global pandemic", German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday, warning that worse was to come.
The situation in Germany and across Europe had changed drastically in recent days, he said, with Germany reporting a sharp uptick to 240 cases.
"The coronavirus outbreak in China has become a global pandemic," Spahn told German lawmakers. "The situation is changing very quickly," he said. "What's clear is that we have not yet reached the peak of the outbreak."
The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far stopped short of declaring a pandemic -- defined as an epidemic that spreads throughout the world through local transmission. But it has urged countries to prepare for a potential pandemic. The number of novel coronavirus cases in the world has now risen to more than 93,000, including 3,201 deaths across 81 countries and territories.
In Germany, Spahn said efforts remained focussed on containing the disease and slowing its spread, including through quarantining people ill with COVID-19 and cancelling large gatherings such as trade fairs. "When in doubt, the safety of the public comes first, including before economic interests," Spahn said.
He added that the government was also updating its medical guidelines to make sure that overstretched health workers concentrate their efforts "on the most acute" cases if the outbreak worsens. That could also mean that non-urgent surgeries might be postponed, he said, stressing however that "we aren't there yet".
Earlier on Wednesday, the German interior ministry announced a ban on exports of medical protective gear to avoid a shortage of masks, gloves and other supplies for medical workers. "The next days and weeks will be challenging. There will be restrictions on everyday life in affected areas and that can cause some stress," Spahn said.
But he said the government was working closely with regional states and European partners to respond to the virus "in a cool-headed way" and take "appropriate measures".