German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said unvaccinated people will be excluded from non-essential shops, and cultural and recreational venues in Germany, and parliament will consider imposing a general vaccine mandate.
Speaking on Thursday after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who have not been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measures an “act of national solidarity”.
She said officials agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year.
The plans include a blanket ban on entering venues, including bars, restaurants and cinemas for anyone who has not been vaccinated or recovered from COVID, according to a document signed off by the leaders.
Unvaccinated people will also be banned from Christmas markets.
The agreement also includes new restrictions on large gatherings, which would affect events such as Bundesliga football matches, and the closure of nightclubs in areas with a weekly incidence rate above 350 infections per 100,000 people.
Merkel also said parliament will debate the possibility of imposing a general vaccine mandate that would come into force as early as February.
About 68.7 percent of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a centre-left coalition next week, said on Tuesday that he backs a general vaccine mandate, but favours letting lawmakers vote according to their personal conscience rather than party lines on the matter.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new Omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken.
Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing on the measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure – with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations – and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases on Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 more deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.