A German town has began storing its dead in a mobile freezer after space in hospital morgues ran out amid a surge in coronavirus fatalities.
Cemetery workers in Hanau, 10 miles outside of Frankfurt, began using the mobile freezer on Thursday, with two bodies currently inside.
It comes after the country suffered a record 956 deaths on Wednesday. The toll on Thursday was 698, Germany’s second-highest total of the pandemic.
Those figures contributed to Europe passing the grim milestone of 500,000 coronavrius deaths on Thursday, becoming the first world region to do so.
Dead bodies in the German town of Hanau are now being stored in a temporary freezer after morgues overflowed amid a surge in coronavirus deaths
Cemetery workers said two bodies were being stored in the container on Thursday, which was first brought to the town in April but has not been used until now
Latin America and the Caribbean have reported 477,404 deaths, the United States and Canada 321,287, Asia 208,149, the Middle East 85,895, and Africa 57,423.
Speaking about the freezers in Hanau, head of cemeteries Alexandra Kinski said they had initially been brought to the town in April as a precaution.
‘Unfortunately the situation in Hanau has changed so much that we now need to make use of the containers,’ she added.
‘If a person passes away and there is no space in the clinic then they come here and stay for a short while until the deceased is taken to a final resting place.’
Seven-day average data for Germany, which accounts for natural peaks and troughs in the data, shows that deaths have been rising consistently since early November.
The seven-day average figure as of Thursday stood at 536, more than double the 233 peak during the first wave. Germany’s total death toll stands at 24,125.
The country also reported 26,923 new cases on Thursday, bringing its total to more than 1.4million.
Seven-day average case data shows infections have been rising for the last fortnight.
Germany, initially praised for its virus response during the first wave, has been hard-hit during a second wave after it shunned going into a full-scale lockdown of the kind seen in other European countries during the autumn.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has now been forced to change tack, bringing in a ‘hard lockdown’ on Wednesday that saw shops and schools closed until January with social gatherings limited over the Christmas holidays.
Alcohol is banned in public places – putting a halt to traditional mulled wine stands at Christmas markets – while hairdressers and salons are also shutting down.
Merkel agreed the tough restrictions with state leaders on Sunday and has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the high infection rate.
Germany is being hit hard by a coronavirus second wave that has pushed the seven-day average for cases up to record levels (pictured)
Seven-day average death data, which accounts for natural peaks and troughs in how numbers are reported, has also risen to a record figure as the outbreak spirals out of control
Under Germany’s federal system, the states have the final say, and some are adopting even tougher measures – with Saxony imposing a 10pm curfew and Bavaria enacting stay-at-home rules similar to those in other countries.
Schools stayed open during the ‘lockdown light’, but are moving to distance learning from Wednesday until at least January 10.
Companies in Europe’s largest economy are also being encouraged to allow their employees to work from home during the month-long shutdown.
‘That would help to implement the principle ‘we’re staying at home’,’ according to the policy paper agreed by Merkel and state premiers.
Social gatherings are restricted to five people from two households, although children aged under 14 are not counted towards the limit.
The rules are being slightly relaxed from December 24-26, when any one household can meet four other people – meaning the total number can rise above five.
However, there is no relaxation over the New Year, and traditional firework displays have been banned in public places.
Shops are also closing down for the first time since the spring, with only essential stores such as supermarkets allowed to remain open.
The typically cautious Merkel last week made an unusually impassioned appeal for Germans to keep their discipline over the Christmas period.
‘If we have too many contacts before Christmas and it ends up being the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we’d really have failed,’ she said.
While Merkel remains largely popular, Germany’s long-admired pandemic response has come under greater scrutiny as the death toll continues to climb.
Many European countries saw their infection rates fall after imposing new measures in October and November, but Germany has yet to see a significant drop.
A security guard closes the iron gate at Berlin’s famous KaDeWe department store last night as it closes its doors during Germany’s second national lockdown
After stabilising for a a few weeks, infections started to rise again at the start of December and the last week has seen a record of more than 160,000 cases.
Some parts of Germany, especially in the former East, which had escaped the first wave of the pandemic relatively lightly are now seeing a massive spread of Covid-19.
The death toll, which only once rose above 300 per day during the spring, is now at an average of almost 500.
And while the German health system has generally handled the crisis well, the number of patients in intensive care is now at an all-time record of 4,735.
Merkel’s economy minister Peter Altmaier and Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder have both described the virus situation as ‘out of control’ in Germany.
Soeder, seen as a possible contender for Merkel’s job when she leaves office next year, warned this week that Germany could become the ‘problem child’ of Europe.
The one ray of hope for Germany was a prediction by health minister Jens Spahn that vaccinations could still begin before Christmas.
Spahn told German television that jabs with the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine could begin within two to four days of an approval by the European Medicines Agency.
The jab has already been approved in Britain, but Spahn has voiced impatience with EU regulators in recent days, finally receiving assurances that the EMA will finalise the approval process by December 23.
Germany has set up some 440 vaccination centres, has 10,000 doctors and medical staff ready and is ready to start mass vaccinations immediately, Spahn says.
‘Our goal is an approval before Christmas,’ Spahn said. ‘We want to still start vaccinating this year.’