More than 90 per cent of severely ill coronavirus patients in Germany have a ‘migrant background’, a leading doctor has said, prompting claims that the government is turning a blind eye to the issue to avoid igniting a race row.
Thomas Voshaar, the head doctor at a German lung hospital, said a survey of leading medics had found that many of the sickest patients were what he described as ‘patients with communications barriers’.
In a conference call of health experts, reported by Bild, Voshaar said he had raised the issue with Angela Merkel‘s health minister Jens Spahn – while the head of Germany’s top diseases institute, Lothar Wieler, described it as a ‘taboo’.
Wieler added that the number of Muslims in intensive care was ‘clearly above 50 per cent’ even though they make up only around five per cent of Germany’s 83million population.
An intensive care ward in Germany, where health experts have warned that Muslims and other minority groups make up a massively disproportionate share of seriously sick virus patients
Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch diseases institute, described the issue as a ‘taboo’ in a conference call with health experts
Voshaar told the February 14 conference call that government warnings about the dangers of the virus were ‘simply not getting through’ to migrant communities.
He said top doctors had compiled figures from intensive care wards in November and December 2020 and January 2021, the peak months of the second wave.
‘According to my analysis, more than 90 per cent of the intubated, most seriously ill patients always had a migrant background,’ he said.
‘We agreed among ourselves that we should describe these people as ‘patients with communications barriers’. We don’t seem to be getting through to them.’
Wieler, the RKI chief, called for authorities to engage with imams to get through to Muslim communities, calling the issue a ‘taboo’ and a ‘real problem’.
‘There are parallel societies in our country. You can only put that right with proper outreach work in the mosques, but we’re not getting through. And that sucks,’ he said.
Wieler said the proportion of Muslims in intensive care wards was ‘clearly above 50 per cent’, even though they make up only around 4.8 per cent of the population.
Asked by Bild about the conference call, Wieler did not deny what was said but described it as a ‘private, informal exchange’ rather than conclusive findings.
Migration politics is a sensitive issue for Angela Merkel, pictured, whose poll ratings suffered after she opened Germany’s doors to refugees from Syria
Germany’s infection rate is climbing again after weeks of improvement, but Merkel’s government says vaccination and rapid testing will nonetheless allow for some re-opening
The death rate has also fallen but is still higher than at the peak of the first wave when Germany escaped relatively lightly
Voshaar said that everyone he had spoken to about his findings, including health minister Spahn, had reacted with a sense of ‘oh God’.
But Merkel is not thought to have discussed the issue in her regular meetings with state premiers.
Experts on the conference call are said to have raised fears that the German government was avoiding confronting the issue for fear of triggering a racism debate.
Migrants and integration are a sensitive political issue in Germany, which unilaterally took in more than a million refugees from war-torn Syria in 2015.
That spurred the growth of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which surged into parliament in 2017 and severely weakened Merkel’s authority.
One politician in Merkel’s party acknowledged that there might be ‘language barriers’ but said the dangers should be clear by now regardless of background.
Minority groups have been hardest-hit in many countries, including in the UK where studies have shown a higher mortality rate among black and Asian people.
But Germany’s RKI has published no official figures on infection or death rates among different ethnic groups.
The new revelations are the latest blow to Merkel’s government which is already facing criticism over the slow vaccine roll-out and long-running lockdown.
Merkel’s CDU saw a surge in popularity in 2020 as Germany escaped the first wave relatively lightly, but the party has now dropped to its lowest poll ratings in a year.
A German police operative receives the AstraZeneca vaccine which health officials have been struggling to hand out after top officials questioned its efficacy
The chancellor is under fire for allowing Brussels to take the lead in the vaccine race, resulting in chaos after the EU was slow to secure deals with Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
And the roll-out has also been criticised at home, with many Germans refusing to take the AstraZeneca jab after top officials questioned its efficacy.
There are now calls for health officials to perform a U-turn and approve the jab for over-65s after real-world studies in England and Scotland proved it is effective.
Meanwhile, Merkel wants to start easing virus curbs from next week with surveys suggesting Germans are losing patients with the lockdown.
‘We’re coming out of a long lockdown and must now proceed step by step,’ Merkel said in a video call with MPs from her conservative bloc.
According to a draft document , Merkel wants five adults from two households to be able to get together from March 8, loosening the current two-person limit.
The text also says flower shops, book stores and garden centres should be next in line to reopen, after hairdressers were already allowed to open earlier this week.
However, most other shops and restaurants, as well as leisure, cultural and sporting facilities, should remain shut until March 28, according to the draft.
The official document says a gradual relaxation is warranted because of an upcoming ramp-up in vaccine and the arrival of mass rapid testing.
‘These two factors will clearly change the pandemic situation,’ it says – even as cases gradually climb again after weeks of declined.
Spahn has promised to offer all Germans free antigen tests soon at designated places like pharmacies, where results will come on the spot.
Germans will also soon be able to buy cheap DIY testing kits at drug stores, and pupils and teachers are expected to get at least one free test a week.