The Frankfurt University Hospital is armed, and has been for weeks.

When the number of new infections shot up in Great Britain and France in December, Jürgen Graf and his team took a close look at what the omicron wave could mean for the situation in German hospitals.

Would the number of patients rise again as sharply as in the Corona winter a year earlier, when hospitals, doctors and nurses reached their limits?

Britta Beeger

Editor in Business.

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Christian Geinitz

Business correspondent in Berlin

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Graf, Medical Director and CEO of the Frankfurt University Hospital, has not yet given a definitive answer.

"We don't really know what's in store for us yet," he says.

He is currently assuming that the number of patients will not skyrocket again due to the rather mild course of the disease.

However, it is currently younger people in particular who are infected – if Omikron also reaches the elderly, it could become “critical”, he says.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warns of this.

Location reassuring at first glance

As in Frankfurt, hospitals across Germany are preparing for the omicron wave. Many had already closed normal wards again because of the fourth wave due to the delta variant, planned interventions had been postponed and staff had been relocated to where they were needed most. According to the Darmstadt Clinic, this has become “common practice” over the past two years. The calm before the storm can now be felt in many hospitals. The only question is if and when he will come.

The experiences from other countries are different, as the expert council of the federal government points out in its recently published statement. In individual European countries and the USA there has been a significant increase in hospital admissions, it says. In other European countries, the number of corona cases in the normal wards has increased, but compared to previous waves of infection there are proportionately fewer intensive care patients.

At first glance, the situation in Germany is reassuring.

While more and more people are becoming infected with the omicron variant and the seven-day incidence is therefore climbing to a new record every day, the severity of the diseases is still limited.

Most recently, around 2,740 Covid 19 patients were in German intensive care units, and the number has been falling since mid-December.

Intensive care units are also likely to be more heavily burdened

The degree of hospitalization, which also takes normal wards into account, has been decreasing for days.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, 3.14 people per 100,000 inhabitants had to go to the hospital because of Covid-19 in the past seven days, a week ago the figure was 5.15;

it was last in double digits in mid-December.

According to the RKI, the number of 30 deaths reported for Monday is the lowest since the beginning of November.

But these numbers could prove to be deceptive, as the German Hospital Society (DKG) warns. The decline in the intensive care units reflects the "disappearing delta wave", so Omicron is not yet reflected here. On the other hand, there were increases with omicron patients outside of intensive care. "We are seeing in the first federal states that the number of patients on the normal ward is increasing," says DKG chairman Gerald Gass.

This mainly affects northern Germany and the city states.

In Hamburg alone, the number of Covid patients rose by 35 percent in the week of January 10th.

"This is clearly due to the propagation of the omicron wave." A similar picture emerges in Hesse.

The head of the association has no good news for the future, not even for the intensive care that is still being spared.

"The normal wards will be under much greater strain in the coming weeks, but occupancy in the intensive care wards will also increase again with a delay," says Gass.

Dieter Bartsch, Managing Director of the Main-Kinzig Clinics with two locations in Hesse, sees no reason to give the all-clear.

"In the course of the omicron wave, we are preparing for the fact that the number of cases can increase significantly again at any time."

Protection against infection has priority

A danger for the clinics and thus for patient care could also arise from the infection and quarantine of employees, since the omicron variant even affects vaccinated and boosted people.

The Frankfurt University Hospital has therefore updated its emergency plans.

"It's not just about the nursing staff, but about everyone who maintains the infrastructure in a hospital: the technical operation, the laboratories, the kitchens," says the medical director Graf.

The plans state which stations and services close first if certain staffing levels are not reached.

In some hospitals, due to the lack of staff - as in previous waves - infected doctors and nurses are apparently being used again in corona wards.

"Basically, it is clear to us that infected staff with symptoms should not work," says Gass.

But he also makes it clear: “In absolutely exceptional situations, when care is otherwise no longer possible due to staff shortages, infected staff can be deployed to infection stations on a voluntary basis.

But only if those affected are symptom-free. ”The protection of patients from infection and occupational safety always have priority.