French hospitals at tipping point as Angela Merkel blames German ‘perfectionism’ for hindering Covid fight

Doctors warn patients in Paris could be turned away from intensive care

A nurse removes her protective cover outside the intensive care unit of the 'Centre Hospitalier Privé de l'Europe' (Private Hospital of Europe) in Port-Marly, western suburb of Paris, on March 25, 2021, amid the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. / AFP / Martin BUREAU
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Paris hospitals could be forced to turn patients away as they reach saturation point due to rising Covid-19 admissions.

Health officials said on Monday the hospitals were about three weeks away from being overwhelmed.

French ministers said the government might need to impose further restrictions because of the deteriorating situation.

Last week, more regions joined Paris and parts of the northern France in a month-long lockdown.

Paris hospital official Remi Salomon pleaded for tighter restrictions, including the closure of schools, as health workers were under significant pressure.

"In 10 days, 15 days or three weeks we may be overwhelmed," he told news network BFMTV.

Dozens of hospital directors on Sunday signed an open letter warning some patients would be turned away from intensive care.

"This triage will concern all patients, Covid and non-Covid, in particular for adult patients' access to critical care," they wrote.

They said they had "never known such a situation, even during the worst terrorist attacks in recent years", and some hospitals were forced to postpone surgery.

"These cancellations will intensify in the coming days, with only vital emergencies being spared soon," they said.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said he was "acutely aware of the impact on ICUs and wishes to keep them at their maximum to avoid more and more terrible choices for care providers”.

Nine emergency room doctors demanded the government provide instructions on which patients to prioritise.

"By making caregivers decide which patient should live and which patient should die, without stating it clearly, the government is shirking responsibility in a hypocritical way. It is time for the executive to clearly and publicly assume the health consequences of its political decisions," they wrote in Le Monde.

The Paris regional health authority ARS asked hospitals to set a goal of making 2,200 beds available for Covid-19 patients. An earlier target of 1,800 beds looks set to be exceeded within days.

Another 1,017 patients were admitted on Sunday, with more than 27,000 Covid-19 patients already in hospital.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel pleaded with state governments to stop straying from agreed pandemic measures with her government under pressure over a sluggish vaccine campaign and testing delays.

Germany's disease control agency warned of an exponential growth in cases.

Ms Merkel said the country still compared well with most of its neighbours, as evidenced by inoculation rates. She called for greater flexibility to tighten restrictions to tackle the latest surge in case numbers.

French Gendarmes patrol the crowded banks of the Seine river to enforce lockdown regulations, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Paris, France, March 28, 2021. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
French police patrol the crowded banks of the Siene river in Paris to enforce lockdown regulations. Reuters 

“Perhaps we’re very perfectionist at times and want to do everything right, because obviously whoever makes a mistake always faces quite a lot of public criticism,” she said.

“But there needs to be flexibility, too. That, I believe, is an attribute that we as Germans perhaps need to learn a little bit more, alongside our tendency toward perfectionism.”

She urged the population not to despair. “We have a difficult situation,” she said. “But look at our neighbours – with the exception of Denmark they are all grappling with the same problems, in part from a much more difficult position.”

Germany last week imposed tougher border controls on some of its neighbours. France was listed as a high-risk zone as the threshold of more than 200 cases per 100,000 people was exceeded in a number of its regions.

Anyone arriving from Austria, Denmark and the Czech Republic must show a negative Covid-19 test at the German border and undergo a 10-day quarantine, which can be shortened with a second negative test after five days.

Negative tests are required for all airport arrivals in Germany from Tuesday.