Germany's coronavirus vaccination drive has slowed and those who have not taken up the opportunity to have shots will need to take Covid-19 tests to fully participate in public life, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.
To nudge more people to be vaccinated amid concerns about a rise in new cases, Ms Merkel said the government will stop offering free tests from October 11, except for those for whom vaccination is not recommended, such as children and pregnant women.
The government will also require people to be either vaccinated, test negative or have a recovery certificate to enter indoor restaurants, participate in religious ceremonies and do indoor sport.
Less than seven weeks before a federal election, Ms Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states met to discuss measures to dampen a new spate of infections driven by the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant and avert unpopular restrictions.
“The bad news is that the vaccination rate has lost pace substantially,” Ms Merkel told a news conference after the meeting.
“I hope it will pick up pace again after the [summer] holidays,” the conservative leader said. “On vaccinations, we are not where we need to be.”
Germany made the tests free of charge for all in March to help make a gradual return to normal life possible after months of lockdown.
Although around 55 per cent of Germans are fully vaccinated, the pace of inoculations has slowed.
In neighbouring France, vaccinations jumped after President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a plan requiring residents to show a health pass to participate in many daily activities. The plan has also triggered mass protests.
Ms Merkel said she would like to see around 75 per cent of Germans fully vaccinated. Bavarian leader Markus Soeder, who joined her at the news conference, warned of a fourth wave of infections.
“What is clear is that this fourth wave is coming, and definitely in the autumn,” said Mr Soeder.
“The current infection rates are not sufficient to be carefree.”
The Bavarian premier added that “there won't be another lockdown — in any case, not for double-vaccinated people. Why? Because then it is unconstitutional.”
Ms Merkel agreed that so long as the vaccines work, any further restrictions must be different to previous lockdowns.
Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate looking to succeed Ms Merkel after the September 26 election, said Germany needed to increase testing and boost vaccinations.
“We want to and will test more to avoid a new lockdown,” Mr Laschet told the North Rhine-Westphalia state assembly.
Mr Laschet is desperate to avoid new restrictions to avoid weakening his chances of becoming chancellor.
Germany has recorded more than 3,000 cases a day in the last week, bringing the total to 3.79 million, and the death toll has reached 91,803.
The nationwide seven-day incidence rose on Tuesday to 23.5 per 100,000 people, up from 23.1 on Monday.
The federal government also agreed at Tuesday's meeting to extend financial assistance to businesses affected by restrictions beyond September, when they are supposed to expire.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the aid would run until the end of the year.
“We are thus continuing to stand firmly by our companies and workers,” he said