German chancellor-in-waiting Olaf Scholz has urged more people to get vaccinated against coronavirus, after Germany recorded more than 50,000 new cases in one day for the first time.
He said vaccination centres, some of which had been closed due to faltering demand, should be reopened.
The German parliament has debated new rules to tackle a rise in infections without imposing lockdowns or making vaccines mandatory for anyone.
The three parties negotiating to form Germany's new government have agreed to let a state of emergency – in place since the start of the pandemic – expire on November 25.
This is despite record numbers of new cases as colder weather and more indoor gatherings turn Europe once more into a coronavirus hotspot.
The would-be three-way coalition has proposed legislation allowing existing hygiene measures, such as compulsory face masks in indoor public spaces, to be enforced and tightened, but without extending to the lockdowns and curfews deployed in previous waves of infection.
Meanwhile, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday that France is at the beginning of its fifth wave.
“Several neighbouring countries are already in a fifth wave of the epidemic, what we are experiencing in France clearly looks like the beginning of a fifth wave,” Mr Veran said on TF1 television channel.
He added that the circulation of the virus was accelerating.
The health ministry registered 11,883 new cases on Wednesday – the second day in a row with a new case tally of over 10,000. New cases have seen double-digit percentage increases week-on-week since around mid-October.
The number of cases in France are dwarfed by new infections in Germany, however.
Germany’s national disease control centre reported a record of more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, as the country’s Bundestag parliament was set to discuss legislation that would provide a new legal framework for coronavirus measures.
Mr Scholz said Germany needs to be “winter-proofed” against the disease and it will be mostly up to state governments to decide which measures and restrictions are needed in their region.
“Many fewer vaccinated people are affected by the infection than those who haven’t been inoculated,” Mr Scholz said on Thursday, in a speech to the Bundestag.
Getting a Covid-19 shot is “the best solution for everyone”, he said, in his first public comments on the pandemic for several weeks.
Political upheaval harms Covid containment
Germany’s efforts at keeping the coronavirus under control have been complicated by a lacklustre vaccination campaign, with millions of adults not yet inoculated.
The pending change of government, after 16 years under Angela Merkel, has also affected pandemic management.
About 67 per cent of the German population of 83 million is fully vaccinated.
Ms Merkel has voiced opposition to the incoming coalition parties’ decision to allow the nationwide emergency law to lapse. That would effectively rule out national lockdowns and school closures.
Instead, states will have more leeway to impose measures such as allowing only vaccinated and recovered citizens into shops and restaurants.
The Free Democrats, who will likely be part of the next government, have opposed the emergency legislation and blanket lockdowns.
That’s opened a clash between the outgoing and incoming governments.
Mrs Merkel on Wednesday called for immediate action, an “effort of the entire state”.
Mr Scholz said state leaders will meet the chancellor and federal officials to discuss the situation next Thursday – a forum used by Mrs Merkel since the first outbreak in 2020. Mr Scholz will also be present.
Members of the Bundestag on Thursday debated updated legislation to tackle Covid-19 drawn up by Mr Scholz’s Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats – the three parties in talks to form the next ruling coalition.
The law, which is due for final approval next week, is designed to provide a nationwide framework while giving regions room to tighten restrictions in coronavirus hotspots.
“We want to provide the regions with a targeted set of instruments,” Dirk Wiese, a deputy SPD caucus leader, said Thursday in an interview with ARD television channel. “This gives them the powers to tackle these high coronavirus numbers.”
The strongest opposition to measures continued to come from the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
The AfD was the only party in the Bundestag to reject rules requiring members of parliament to be vaccinated, recovered or recently tested and negative to enter parliament.
'Disaster situation' in Bavaria
Its libertarian approach would be unlikely to abet the increasingly grim situation in Bavaria.
The southern state has declared the latest wave of the pandemic a “disaster situation”.
“In many hospitals there is already no – or only very little – capacity available,” Bavaria Premier Markus Soeder said Wednesday in a tweet.
Declaring a disaster makes it easier to distribute patients around the region’s hospitals, he said.
Bavaria has the third-highest incidence rate after Saxony and Thuringia and the three regions also have some of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates.
“The virus is still among us and threatening citizens' health,” Mr Scholz told the Bundestag.