Germany toughens rules for unvaccinated people as new Covid wave hits

Case numbers are about a third higher than a week ago and almost double a fortnight ago

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Germany moved to toughen restrictions for unvaccinated people on Thursday to tackle a rising wave of coronavirus infections.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the steps would not have been necessary if more people were vaccinated.

She said Germany was in a “very dramatic” situation which could put severe strain on hospitals if infections are not brought under control.

Under rules agreed upon by Ms Merkel and Germany's 16 state leaders, regions will have to limit events to vaccinated and recovered people once pressure on hospitals reaches a certain level.

If the situation becomes more extreme, even vaccinated people will need a negative test. The talks came after a record of 65,371 daily cases was announced on Thursday.

“The situation is very dramatic and it will now depend on fast and systematic action,” said the chancellor.

“Many of the measures that now have to be taken would not have been necessary if more people were vaccinated.”

About two thirds of the population is fully vaccinated. Booster shots are being recommended for all adults whose second dose was more than five months ago.

Politicians have been warned of a growing strain on hospitals, driven by unvaccinated people falling ill with Covid-19, leading to long waits for people with other emergency needs.

The national response is complicated by the fact that Ms Merkel's government is in a caretaker role and will leave office as soon as a new coalition is formed, which could be within weeks.

Separately, the new majority in Parliament passed an amended infection control law on Thursday which mandates health checks in workplaces and on public transport.

But Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, who are expected to go into opposition, regard the measures as insufficient. A state of emergency was allowed to expire under the new law and with it the power to take the furthest-reaching measures.

“The hardest weeks of the pandemic are ahead of us,” said the party's parliamentary leader Ralph Brinkhaus. “It would be a disastrous political signal to say now that things aren't so bad.”

Ms Merkel's probable successor, current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz of the centre-left Social Democrats, said pressure was growing on intensive care wards.

“The most important thing is that people who are not yet vaccinated get themselves vaccinated,” he said. “My appeal is that everyone pulls themselves together and makes the decision for themselves, for their loved ones and their families.”

Infections have shot up in recent weeks, particularly among unvaccinated people, with southern and eastern Germany the hardest hit.

The district of Meissen, near Dresden, reported almost 1,305 new cases for every 100,000 inhabitants in the past week.

The state of Saxony, where Meissen is located, plans to introduce new social distancing rules and require people to show vaccine passports or recovery certificates to enter most shops.

Saxony has the lowest vaccination rate in Germany, with 57.6 per cent of the population fully inoculated compared to the national average of 67.7 per cent.

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's public health agency, sounded the alarm over 15 million unvaccinated adults who make up a disproportionate share of those in hospital.

The agency's most recent figures showed hospital admission rates about five or six times higher among unvaccinated people.

He called for tougher restrictions to shut unvaccinated people out of crowded places. Neighbouring Austria, where about one in 100 people are testing positive every week, this week imposed a lockdown for unvaccinated people.

“We can’t always give unvaccinated people the chance to live their lives in the same way through a test,” Mr Wieler said.

Mr Wieler added that the strain on hospitals meant medical workers were searching for up to two hours for a bed where stroke or heart attack patients could be treated.

He said the high number of virus cases meant that hundreds more people were already doomed to die of Covid-19.

“We can’t change that anymore,” he said. “These people are infected. Even with the best medical care, hundreds of those people will die.”

Updated: November 18, 2021, 6:45 PM