by Sophie MAKRIS and Femke COLBORNE
Agence France Presse
BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — Germany needs further coronavirus restrictions to combat a record surge in infections and “get through this winter”, would-be chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday, calling a meeting with state premiers to decide new curbs.
The country recorded 50,196 new cases in the past 24 hours on Thursday, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency — the first time the figure has exceeded 50,000.
Infections and deaths have been climbing steeply since mid-October, in an outbreak blamed on Germany’s relatively low vaccination rate of just over 67 percent.
Scholz’s remarks came after he faced criticism for his relative silence despite the urgent situation, with detractors saying he was more focused on his Social Democratic Party’s bid to form a ruling coalition with the Greens and liberal FDP following September’s election.
Presenting proposed measures drafted by the three parties in parliament on Thursday, Scholz said new restrictions were necessary to “get through this winter”.
“What we need now is for the country to pull together in one direction,” he said, also urging more Germans to get vaccinated.
“It is very, very important that we take every measure to ensure that we can protect the health of the citizens of our country,” he said.
– ‘Still not good’ –
“Even if the situation is different (from last winter) because so many people have been vaccinated, it is still not good, especially because not enough people have made use of the vaccination option so far,” Scholz added.
The measures proposed by the incoming coalition parties include restricting access to certain facilities to those who are vaccinated or have recovered from the disease — a system known as 2G in Germany.
They also want to tighten testing requirements for employers and reintroduce free rapid antigen tests, a measure that had been in place over the summer but was abandoned in mid-October.
The proposals will be scrutinised by the Bundestag lower house of parliament this week and are expected to come into force at the end of the month.
Scholz also announced a meeting between the federal government and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states next week — to be held on Thursday, according to north Rhine-Westphalia state premier Hendrik Wuest.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for urgent action and described the rise in infections as “dramatic”.
“The pandemic is returning in a new spectacular fashion,” her spokesperson said this week, calling on regional authorities to take further steps to quell the outbreak.
– Hospitals overwhelmed –
Germany’s incidence rate also hit a record high on Thursday, climbing to 249.1 new infections per 100,000 people over the past seven days.
The number of deaths in 24 hours also climbed to 235.
Hospitals in some regions are already overwhelmed, especially in the east of the country, which has started transferring patients to less affected regions.
The eastern state of Saxony, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the country at 57 percent, also had the highest incidence rate on Thursday of 521.9.
Health Minister Jens Spahn has said the country is facing a “massive pandemic of the unvaccinated” and has urged as many Germans as possible to get a booster vaccine, even if they are already fully jabbed.
Several of the worst-hit states, including Saxony, Bavaria, and most recently Berlin, have introduced new restrictions on unvaccinated people.
As of Monday, Berlin will apply the 2G rule in restaurants, bars, sports halls and hairdressers.
Saxony has also introduced the 2G rule for indoor dining, cinemas, theatres and other indoor events.
Over 4.9 million people have been infected by Covid-19 in Germany since the beginning of the pandemic.
© Agence France-Presse