Germany has tightened curbs on unvaccinated people and paved the way for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations next year as it ramps up pressure on those refusing the jab.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz announced the measures after a hastily scheduled meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states. The country has hit its highest level of Covid infections since the pandemic began, putting unprecedented strain on hospitals.
“The fourth wave must be broken,” Merkel told journalists after the meeting. “The situation is very serious. The number of infections has stabilised but at far too high a level.”
The leaders decided to hold a vote in the Bundestag on whether to make vaccines mandatory, which would be likely from February. They also issued a decree that will require jabs for workers at care homes and hospitals, similar to rules in Greece, Italy, and France.
The regulations laid out on Thursday will severely curb access to public as well as private activities for those who are unvaccinated, at present about 28 per cent of the population.
“We have many who have been vaccinated,” Scholz, who is expected to succeed Merkel as chancellor next week, told journalists. “But ‘many’ is not enough.”
Using what is known in Germany as the “2G” rule, soon only the vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid will be able to go into shops and cultural institutions.
Once the rules are implemented, a household of vaccine holdouts will only be able to meet two people from another household.
High infection rates could also affect the vaccinated, after the leaders agreed that bars and clubs should be closed in areas with more than 350 cases of coronavirus infection per 100,000 people over seven days. They will also bring in tight curbs on private parties in these places.
On Thursday, the overall seven-day incidence rate across Germany was 439.2, though the exact number varies in each region.
European leaders are braced for the effects of the Omicron coronavirus variant, which the EU’s health agency has warned could account for more than half of infections in the bloc within a few months.
The agency said that, as of Wednesday, 70 Omicron cases had been reported in 13 EU and European Economic Area countries.
It warned that travel restrictions had a limited shelf life and advised countries to continue to prioritise the vaccination of the most vulnerable groups. It also encouraged other measures such physical distancing and the use of face masks.
In Germany, the leaders who met on Thursday announced plans to accelerate the country’s vaccination campaign for both the unvaccinated and those in need of boosters. They vowed to “make vaccination available by Christmas to all who choose” and expected this to require an estimated 30m jabs.