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Coronavirus: Germany bans unvaccinated people from certain places


BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that unvaccinated people would be excluded from non-essential shops, cultural and recreational venues, and that parliament would consider a general vaccination mandate, as part of an effort to curb coronavirus infections which again exceeded 70,000 new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.

Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary amid fears that German hospitals could be overloaded with people with COVID-19 infections, who are more likely to be serious in those who have not been vaccinated.

“The situation is serious in our country,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure “an act of national solidarity”.

She said authorities had also agreed to require masks in schools, place new limits on private meetings and target 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year.

Merkel herself has supported the most controversial proposal to impose a general mandate on vaccines. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.

If passed, it could go into effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she was still an MP.

About 68.7% of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, well below the minimum of 75% target by the government.

There have been big protests against pandemic measures in Germany in the past and the vaccine’s mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, although opinion polls show most Germans are in favor.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, has also supported a general mandate on vaccines, but prefers to let lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than according to the party lines.

“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing it now,” he said.

The increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted scientists and doctors to warn that the country’s medical services could become overwhelmed in the coming weeks, unless drastic measures cannot be taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany due to a shortage of intensive care beds.

Agreeing on what to do has been complicated by Germany’s political structure – with the 16 states responsible for most regulations – and the ongoing transition to the federal level.

Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 new confirmed cases on Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.

In order to reduce the pressure on hospitals during the holiday season, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off on New Year’s Eve in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people seriously injured from improperly handled fireworks.

The new measures will take effect once the 16 German states incorporate them into the existing rules, likely in the next few days.

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