Germany needs more Covid restrictions ‘to get through winter’, says Scholz

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.

SPD's chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz speaking to outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel in the Bundestag on Thursday.
SPD's chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz speaking to outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel in the Bundestag on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

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.

READ ALSO: Germany sees more than 50,000 Covid cases in 24 hours

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, which include the possibility of excluding unvaccinated people from certain indoor venues and a bigger push on booster jabs, 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.

“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.”

What are the planned restrictions?

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.

READ ALSO: Germany to bring back free rapid Covid tests 

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.

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 overwhelmed

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, terraces, bars, sports halls and hairdressers.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now