Germany passed the threshold of 100,000 Covid-19 deaths, with the latest resurgence of the disease pushing new infections higher at a record pace and putting hospitals in some hotspots under severe pressure.
Since it took hold at the beginning of last year, 100,119 people have died from the virus, according to the latest data from the RKI public-health institute. Battling the fourth wave of the pandemic - which is spreading rapidly in many European countries - will dominate the early weeks of Germany's new government.
Social Democrat Olaf Scholz on Wednesday sealed a coalition agreement with the Greens and Free Democrats and he's expected to be sworn in to replace Angela Merkel early next month.
Scholz said Wednesday that he will set up a crisis unit in the chancellery to coordinate pandemic measures with Germany's 16 states. He also raised the prospect of mandatory vaccinations for people working with vulnerable groups such as the elderly.
"The point is to organize a strategy to tackle this situation in a professional way," Scholz said late Wednesday in an interview with ARD television. "That's why it's also important that this happens in the chancellery, and we work together with the states to discuss the necessary steps."
There were a further 351 Covid deaths in Germany in the 24 hours through Thursday morning, according to the RKI. Infections surged by a record 75,961 and the seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people climbed to a new high of 420.
Germany's total death toll, which roughly equals the population of mid-sized cities like Erlangen or Guetersloh, is significantly lower than the U.K., France or Italy, which each passed 100,000 some time ago. The U.S. has recorded the most deaths with more than 770,000, followed by Brazil with over 610,000, according to the Bloomberg Covid-19 Tracker.
Germany's European neighbors are also being forced to tighten restrictions as infections spread. Austria went back into lockdown on Monday, while Italy on Wednesday approved new curbs targeting mainly unvaccinated people.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran will detail new measures to contain the virus later on Thursday. The government plans to reinforce mask-wearing, social distancing and the use of health passes, and speed up its vaccine booster campaign.
Germany is also trying to accelerate inoculations. The number of daily fatalities is only about a fifth of the level seen last winter, with about 68% of the population fully vaccinated against the disease.
Hospitals are nonetheless becoming increasingly overwhelmed in some regions, and the government's latest measures have yet to show a tangible effect.
Merkel and regional leaders agreed last week to restrict access to restaurants, bars and public events for unvaccinated people in hard-hit areas.
Experts have warned that another lockdown could become unavoidable, inflicting more damage on Europe's biggest economy and delaying its recovery.
The prospect of tighter restrictions ahead of the Christmas season is "a catastrophe," according to Marc Tenbieg from lobby group Deutscher Mittelstands-Bund, which represents the small and medium-sized companies that make up the backbone of the German economy.
The association backs curbs to fight the pandemic, Tenbieg said, though he criticized political leaders for reacting "far too late."
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