German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her likely successor met Thursday with state governors to consider tighter rules to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, said Tuesday that he backs a general vaccine mandate, but favors letting lawmakers vote according to their personal conscience rather than party lines on the matter.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure — with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations — and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
The proposals on the table include:
1. Restricting access to nonessential stores to people who are either vaccinated or recovered.
2. Closing clubs in regions with high infection rates.
3. Limiting the number of people who can take part in large events, such as soccer matches.
4. Reintroducing limits on how many unvaccinated people can meet in private settings.
5. A requirement for people who work in hospitals and nursing homes to get the COVID-19 shot, with the possibility of a general vaccinate mandate next year.
About 68.7% of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75% the government is aiming for.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.