German Chancellor Angela Merkel says people who have not been vaccinated will be excluded from unnecessary shops and cultural and recreational sites.
- Germany’s leaders are considering making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory
- Masks will be required in schools and there will be ceilings at private meetings under new restrictions
- Overwhelmed hospitals in the south and east of the country are transferring patients to other parts of Germany
The nation’s parliament will also consider a general vaccine mandate as part of its efforts to curb coronavirus infections, as the number of new cases peaks again at 70,000 24 hours.
After a meeting with federal and state leaders, Ms Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns German hospitals could be overloaded with people suffering from COVID-19 infections, who were more likely to be serious in those who had not been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Mrs Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”.
She said officials also agreed to demand masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations before the end of the year – an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.
Mrs Merkel herself supported the most controversial proposal to introduce a general vaccine mandate.
She said parliament would discuss the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If adopted, it could enter into force as early as February, Mrs Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a Member of Parliament.
About 68.7 percent of the population of Germany is fully vaccinated, well below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
There have been strong protests against pandemic measures in Germany in the past, and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority of people, although opinion polls show that most Germans are in favor of it.
Vaccine mandate on the agenda
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor of a center-left coalition next week, has also supported a general vaccine mandate, but is in favor of letting politicians vote on the issue according to their conscience rather than party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we would not discuss this now,” he said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks and the arrival of the new Omicron variant have given rise to warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could be congested in the coming weeks, unless drastic measures are taken.
Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany due to lack of intensive care beds.
Agreeing on what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure. The 16 states are responsible for many of the rules, and there is an ongoing leadership transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 recently confirmed cases on Thursday.
The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total number since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals during the holidays, the sale of fireworks fired traditionally on New Year’s in Germany is banned.
Every year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries due to mistreated fireworks.
The new measures will enter into force when Germany’s 16 states have incorporated them into existing rules, probably in the coming days.
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