BERLIN – Germany on Tuesday announced new restrictions that will begin after Christmas to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant, rules that will not allow a full lockdown but will include contact restrictions even for those vaccinated.
“I can understand anyone who doesn’t want to hear about the coronavirus, mutations and new variants of the virus,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a press conference on Tuesday evening. “But we cannot and must not condone this next wave.”
Some of the new rules include limiting private gatherings to 10 people, closing nightclubs across the country, and holding large events like football matches without an in-person audience. The restrictions will go into effect nationwide on December 28, although states may implement the measures sooner.
Scholz said the government decided to wait until after Christmas to implement new national restrictions because family-oriented holidays such as Christmas and Easter “have not proven to be the main drivers of the pandemic.” But he said restrictions on New Year’s celebrations are needed to prevent Germany’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
“This is no longer the time for parties and socials in large groups,” said Scholz.
Scholz and the 16 German state governors agreed on the new restrictions at a meeting on Tuesday, after the government’s new panel of experts called for action to be taken within days nationwide , because the omicron variant is racing across Europe.
Scholz and state governors will meet again on January 7 to determine whether the measures should be maintained or even stepped up.
Hours before the meeting, the National Center for Disease Control called on Twitter for “maximum contact restrictions” starting immediately and through mid-January, and for Germans to cut vacation trips “to the bare minimum.”
One state, Hamburg, has already decided on Tuesday to impose restrictions from Christmas Eve. There will be a 10-person limit for private meetings and dance events will be banned, effectively closing nightclubs. Restaurants and bars in the state will have to close at 11 p.m. – except on New Years Eve, when they can stay open until 1 a.m.
Restrictions already in place in Germany primarily target the unvaccinated, with proof of vaccination or recovery required to enter non-essential stores. In addition, the sale of New Year’s fireworks has been banned across the country.
Scholz said the German government is also trying to speed up its booster vaccination campaign, aiming to distribute 30 million more vaccines by the end of January by keeping some vaccination centers open during the holidays.
“Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate remains our goal,” said Scholz. “The coronavirus is not taking a Christmas vacation. “
But authorities remain unhappy that only 70.4% of the German population have been fully immunized and 32.6% have received boosters.
The infection rate in Germany is, for now, slowly falling. On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control recorded 306.4 new cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days, up from 375 a week earlier, with 23,428 new cases daily.
However, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has warned that Germany is facing “a massive fifth wave” of infections from omicron, which he says cannot realistically be avoided.
The Center for Disease Control said on Monday that people who have recovered or have been fully vaccinated now face a “high” risk of infection, while it is “moderate” for those who have received a booster. . He said the risk of contracting COVID-19 is “very high” for those who are not vaccinated.