Germany is facing its worst surge in Covid-19 infections so far, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday.
Her stark warning was revealed by party colleagues shortly after Health Minister Jens Spahn said the winter would end with most Germans "vaccinated, cured or dead" from the disease.
Mrs Merkel told her centre-right Christian Democratic Union of Germany party that the measures currently being taken to tackle the outbreak were insufficient, with the federal system and a looming change of government meaning the situation is largely out of her hands.
"We are in a highly dramatic situation. What is in place now is not sufficient," Mrs Merkel was quoted as saying by German media.
"We have a situation that will surpass everything we have had so far".
Mr Spahn said anyone who was not vaccinated was likely to be infected with the fast-spreading Delta variant.
Politicians are urging more people to be vaccinated as infection rates reach record levels, daily deaths climb into the hundreds and hospitals come under increasing pressure. Only 68 per cent of Germany's population is fully inoculated against Covid-19.
Under tightened restrictions, people entering their workplace or travelling on public transport will need to show proof they are vaccinated, cured or have tested negative.
“At the end of the winter, pretty much everyone in Germany will, as it’s sometimes been put a bit cynically, be vaccinated, cured or dead," Mr Spahn said.
“With the very infectious Delta variant, it’s very, very likely that anyone who is not vaccinated will get infected in the next few months, unless they’re very, very careful in every walk of life.”
He said he remained sceptical of making vaccination compulsory, but would not stand in the way if the majority in parliament sets rules for certain professions.
A new government is expected to take office within weeks, with Mrs Merkel and Mr Spahn serving as caretakers until then.
The Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, who plan to announce a four-year programme for government this week, used the majority they won in September's election to push through an amended coronavirus law last week.
Mrs Merkel and the leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, Markus Soeder, criticised the decision to let a state of emergency expire. The move takes away powers to close schools and shops.
The three parties "have misread the situation", Mr Soeder said.
“ It is not appropriate to scrap the state of emergency. It is a fundamental mistake.”
The lagging vaccination drive has left Mr Spahn facing questions about supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, which was partly developed by a German company and is the preferred choice for many people.
On Monday, he urged the public not to shun the Moderna vaccine as a booster, even if they initially received two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
"Moderna is a good, safe and very effective vaccine. Some vaccinating doctors say BioNTech is the Mercedes of vaccines, and Moderna is the Rolls-Royce,” he said.
Berlin is in talks with BioNTech over extra supplies but cannot yet give details, Mr Spahn said.
Germany reported another 30,463 cases of Covid-19 on Monday, with 62 deaths bringing the overall toll to almost 100,000.
The outgoing government agreed to rules with state leaders last week that will allow hospital capacity to be used as the benchmark for new restrictions.
If the burden on hospitals rises above a certain level, unvaccinated people will be barred from certain venues. At very high rates, even the vaccinated will need to provide a negative test result to enter.
Authorities in hard-hit regions such as Bavaria and Saxony have gone further by cancelling large events such as Christmas markets.
But Germany has so far stopped short of matching Austria’s restrictions, with authorities there reimposing a full lockdown and making vaccination compulsory from next year.
The spread of the virus means the new German government could face a tricky start in office.
Negotiators want to finalise their deal this week before presenting it to their parties for approval. A vote to confirm the Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats as chancellor is provisionally scheduled for the week of December 6.
The three parties published a 12-page outline of a deal in October, before entering line-by-line negotiations on a full coalition programme.
The provisional deal showed compromises on important issues such as tax and spending and how to reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Leaks of potential ministerial appointments suggest negotiations are in their final stretch.
There is speculation that Free Democratic Party leader Christian Lindner could become finance minister, with the Greens taking on a wide-ranging economic brief.