Signs of hope in Germany, France but virus strains hospitals

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A flight attendant stands in front of the entrance of a new Lufthansa corona quick test center at the airport in Munich, Germany, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Lufthansa starts the first test runs for comprehensive Covid-19 antigen rapid tests on selected routes between Munich and Hamburg. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

BERLIN – The surge of new coronavirus cases appears to be slowing in Germany and France, generating hopes that the two European heavyweights are beginning to regain control over the pandemic. But authorities said Thursday that hospitals are crowded and are likely to face further strain in the coming weeks.

Countries across Europe have implemented lockdown measures of varying intensity in recent weeks as they try to tamp down a second wave of the pandemic, with numbers of confirmed cases hitting records. They have largely overwhelmed contact-tracing efforts even in Germany, which was credited with handling the pandemic's first cases well and is still in better shape than most of its neighbors.

One death in four in France is now linked to COVID-19, and there were more virus patients in French hospitals as of Thursday than there were during the peak of the country’s first epidemic in the spring, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

But the number of people infected per 100,000 has been dropping for 10 days, and the number of virus patients is hospitals is expected to peak early next week, French officials reported.

“That’s good news, but not sufficient” to lift lockdowns just yet, Castex said.

Germany's health minister told his compatriots to brace for a long winter, regardless of whether a partial shutdown succeeds in bringing down the caseload.

“This doesn't mean that things can really get going again everywhere from December or January, and that we can have wedding parties or Christmas celebrations as if nothing were happening — that won't work,” Jens Spahn told RBB Inforadio.

“I don't see having events with more than 10 or 15 people this winter.”