Germany’s disease control centre has urged people to cancel or avoid large events and to reduce contacts as the country’s coronavirus infection rate hits the latest in a string of new highs.
The Robert Koch Institute said Germany’s infection rate had climbed to 263.7 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, up from 249.1 the previous day.
Germany reported 48,640 new cases on Friday, a day after the daily total topped 50,000 for the first time. Another 191 deaths took Germany’s total so far to 97,389.
While the infection rate is not yet as high as in some other European countries, its relentless rise in Germany has set off alarm bells.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to meet the country’s 16 state governors to co-ordinate nationwide measures next week, and parliament is mulling legislation that would provide a new legal framework for restrictions over the winter.
“We must now do everything necessary to break this momentum,” health minister Jens Spahn told reporters. “Otherwise it will be a bitter December for the whole country.”
In its weekly report released late on Thursday, the Robert Koch Institute said it “urgently advises cancelling or avoiding larger events if possible, but also reducing all other unnecessary contacts”.
If such events cannot be avoided, it added, people should take a test before attending, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.
The head of the institute, Lothar Wieler, said on Friday that fewer hospital beds are available than at any time during the pandemic, with more than half of intensive care units reporting “acute staff shortages” as they did during Germany’s previous peak in January.
In the worst-affected areas, he said, the number of people attending large events should be reduced or authorities should consider banning such events and closing bars or clubs.
Most German regions restrict access to many indoor facilities and events to people who have been vaccinated against the virus, have recovered from Covid-19 or recently received negative test results — with the latter category now being excluded in an increasing number of areas.
Germany has struggled to bring new momentum to its vaccination campaign lately, with a little over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated, and has baulked so far at ordering vaccine mandates for any professional group.
Officials also want to ensure more people who were inoculated months ago get booster jabs.
Mr Spahn said he will order the resumption of free rapid Covid-19 tests, which were scrapped a month ago in an effort to persuade more people to get vaccinated.
He said he favours limiting public events to the vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19, and also requiring them to be tested beforehand.
He added that Germany will declare neighbouring Austria, whose infection rate is far higher, a “high-risk area” starting on Sunday, which means people arriving from Austria who have not been vaccinated or recovered will have to go into quarantine.
Austria is implementing a lockdown for unvaccinated people in two hard-hit regions next week and looks poised to move forward with similar measures nationwide.
Starting on Monday, unvaccinated people in the regions of Upper Austria and Salzburg will only be allowed to leave home for essential reasons, such as buying groceries or going to the doctor.
The Czech Republic and Hungary were also added to the list of “high-risk areas”, but the US was removed.