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Looming collapse: Bonn doctors do not see hospitals prepared for coronavirus epidemic

Looming collapse : Bonn doctors do not see hospitals prepared for coronavirus epidemic

Bonn physicians criticise the handling of the corona virus and raise the alarm about the lack of equipment. It is said that there are already thefts of disinfectants and protective masks in hospitals.

Disinfectants and medical protective clothing are in short supply. So scarce that Bonn's hospitals describe the situation as dramatic. But the criticism from doctors goes even further: they do not consider themselves prepared for an epidemic. "We must be glad that the course of the disease is predominantly mild. What we are experiencing right now is a shot across the bow, and I am worried that we are not taking the opportunity to learn from this for the future," says Tim Flasbeck, who is head of emergency medicine at the Malteser Hospital in Bonn and has worked in many crisis regions around the world.

Flasbeck sits in front of the camera in a blue surgical gown. Behind him is a white wall, next to him is colleague Jens Müllen from Cologne. "We want to inform you because we see a trend that we don't think is good," says Flasbeck in a calm, deep voice. The mood, he says, lies "between excessive calmness and a latent to manifest panic. For almost three minutes, the two talk about the new corona virus and how to deal with it. Within a few hours, the article was downloaded more than 20,000 times from the Malteser International website.

"The reactions to the video have shown us that there is a great need for valid information and we also see that a sober presentation of known content has a calming effect on people," says Flasbeck. He misses a coordinated, nationwide education, there were too many lurid phrases circulating, especially on the Internet. In his opinion it is too late to stop the virus. "We have to accept the epidemic, like any seasonal flu, then we'll be able to act.“

The kind of strange effects which can cause uncertainty can be seen on the free market: disinfectants at six times the price. A pharmacy in Bonn advertises by offering so-called FFP-3 protective masks for 34.95 Euro, which otherwise cost about five euros. In addition asked whether that is not usury, the pharmacist answers stressed, the customers stand in line. "The hut is on fire here. We can get nothing more ourselves. These are almost the prices we have to pay to our suppliers." Disinfectants are no longer available. "I have just enough of my own to protect my employees.“

Staff lock away important equipment

This assessment is also confirmed by Bonn doctors. They want to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. "We're whistling in the dark. If we now have a major number of infected people, we don't know how to deal with it," says one medical doctor. What is currently happening in hospitals and also in surgeries is "dramatic". One has to economize. "We are locking up material and only handing it out against a signature." Not only visitors, but also hospital staff would steal disinfectant from the dispensers and also face masks.

The situation had been "completely underestimated" by the authorities, and much better preparation could have been made. For example, in many hospitals it was already discussed at the end of January that goods could become scarce. "It wouldn't have been the first time either", says one doctor. A few years ago, when a large pharmaceutical factory burned down in China, an antibiotic became scarce. This dependency on the Chinese market is now becoming apparent again. In the Wuhan region, which is severely affected by the coronavirus, protective clothing is produced for the entire world.

Instead of confronting the population from the outset with the danger and the expected large spread, "it was issued that one must not spread hysteria." Images like in China, where whole cities are quarantined, should be avoided, also for economic reasons. "Communication has been adapted to this. That's why you can feel a discrepancy between what politicians say and what happens."

There are no special clinics in Bonn so far

In order to protect hospitals from the coronavirus, Flasbeck believes that public traffic should be better controlled. That is why the Maltese Hospital has adopted the eye of the needle principle, which involves reducing the number of entrances and asking visitors about flu-like symptoms, among other things. "In case of doubt, one is then asked to consult a doctor," explains Flasbeck.

In Cologne and Berlin, there are already specialist hospitals for the investigation of suspected cases of coronavirus, but not yet in Bonn. "The city is currently considering, with the University Hospital of Bonn, whether a centre should be established, and if so, where," says city spokeswoman Monika Hörig. Nothing could be said about a venue so far. According to GA information, however, the former children's clinic on Adenauerallee is one of the sites under discussion.

Confronted with the accusations that the city of Bonn is overstrained with the situation, Hörig replies: "No health office can prepare itself for an epidemic and have personnel available. All available forces of the health department are in action, even beyond their actual area of responsibility". So far, no physicians from Bonn have approached the city and the crisis team with harsh criticism.

(Original text: Nicolas Ottersbach and Lisa Inhoffen; Translation: Mareike Graepel)