With its converted Airbus A330 aircraft, the French army has flying intensive care units that were used in the Kosovo war. However, the military has never had to use it to rescue its own civilians – until yesterday. Soldiers personally commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron flew six seriously ill corona patients from Mulhouse to Toulon on the Mediterranean on Wednesday. It is their last hope because the hospitals in the Alsace have been working beyond their capacity limits for a few days.
Alsace is one of the regions most severely affected by the Covid-19 France. The coronavirus has already killed at least 61 people in this border region with Germany. What news agencies report there reminds more and more of the situation in northern Italy: hospitals are overcrowded, nursing staff are increasingly infecting themselves and in many places there is a lack of basic medical equipment such as breathing masks. “We are disillusioned, worried and we feel let down,” Didier Kleimberg told the France3 regional broadcaster. The emergency doctor had just received five breathing masks since the crisis began, even though he has to see around 30 corona patients every day.
The situation in the industrial city of Mulhouse is particularly serious. Hundreds of new cases are currently reported here every day, although the local hospital counts just 25 intensive care beds. So the army had to step in now. The rescue operation with the A330 followed similar operations previously carried out by helicopter towards the Strasbourg and Nancy hospitals. A spokesman for the French army says ZEIT ONLINE that the plane action is definitely not the last. Soldiers are also currently moving a few dozen intensive care beds and ventilators to Mulhouse to build an improvised field hospital within the next few days.
Mass service with devastating consequences
Mulhouse soon became the center of the corona epidemic in France. The reason is probably that an evangelical association of the Pentecostal church met there for a week at the end of February to fast and pray. At that time, the virus was well known in France, but large events were not yet prohibited. More than 2,000 believers came from France, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany – and gave the virus a kickstart. Particularly fatal: there were no participant lists. Around three weeks later, 1,820 people in the Grand Est region around the city of Mulhouse are officially infected.
The people on the German side of the border region are afraid that something similar is about to happen. “Colleagues in the hospital corridors tell each other that doctors are already thinking about not intubating people over the age of 75,” said an anonymous hospital employee to the news broadcaster BFMTV. He tells of colleagues who would have removed 20 bodies in one day. He cried when he saw the first quarantined patient die lonely.