'Lockdown for the unvaccinated'

Germany excludes unvaccinated from public life as COVID surges

Merkel announces sweeping rules banning those without immunity against coronavirus from restaurants, markets, gatherings and more; voices support for compulsory vaccination

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) arrives with her designated successor Olaf Scholz (L) for a press conference following a meeting with the heads of Germany's federal states, at the Chancellery in Berlin, on December 2, 2021. (John MacDougall/Pool/AFP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) arrives with her designated successor Olaf Scholz (L) for a press conference following a meeting with the heads of Germany's federal states, at the Chancellery in Berlin, on December 2, 2021. (John MacDougall/Pool/AFP)

BERLIN (AFP) — Germany will impose sweeping curbs on people not vaccinated against COVID-19 to combat the latest surge in cases, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday after meeting regional leaders.

“Culture and leisure nationwide will be open only to those who have been vaccinated or recovered,” Merkel said, adding that the same rule would also apply to non-essential shops.

The outgoing chancellor also spoke out in favor of compulsory vaccinations, which parliament is due to vote on soon.

“Given the situation, I think it is appropriate to adopt compulsory vaccination,” she said.

Merkel, her designated successor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of 16 states tightened COVID restrictions just two weeks ago, but met again on Thursday to discuss tougher measures.

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.

The unimmunized will also be banned from Christmas markets, and contact restrictions will limit the number of people they can socialize with.

A coronavirus testing station is seen at the Christmas market in the western German city of Dortmund on December 1, 2021. (Ina Fassbender/AFP)

The agreement also includes new restrictions on large gatherings, which would affect events such as Bundesliga soccer matches, and the closure of nightclubs in areas with a weekly incidence rate above 350 infections per 100,000 people.

Fireworks will be banned on New Year’s Eve to stop large crowds from gathering, according to North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Hendrik Wuest.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, in a caretaker role ahead of the planned swearing-in of a new government next week, told the ZDF broadcaster that Germany needed “a lockdown, so to speak, for the unvaccinated.”

‘Never been as threatening’

“You can see from the decisions that we have understood the situation is very serious,” Merkel said, adding that the measures should be seen as “minimum standards” and different regions could also impose their own tougher curbs.

Infections have smashed German records in recent weeks and hospitals are sounding the alarm, with many over capacity and forced to dispatch patients elsewhere in the country for treatment.

Though Germany’s seven-day incidence rate has fallen slightly this week, it still stood at 439.2 on Thursday, with 73,209 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours.

“From the point of view of intensive and emergency medicine, the pandemic situation has never been as threatening and serious as it is today,” the DIVI intensive care association warned on Wednesday, calling for a drastic tightening of restrictions.

Medics wearing protective gear transfer patients infected with COVID-19 into a MedEvac plane belonging to the German armed forces before they are airlifted and transported to other intensive care units in the country, at Dresden International Airport, Saxony, on December 1, 2021. (Ronny Hartmann/AFP)

Several hard-hit German regions have already canceled Christmas markets and barred the unvaccinated from public spaces like gyms and leisure facilities to slow the pandemic spread.

But critics say the patchwork of rules is confusing, and Thursday’s emergency talks were aimed at coming up with nationwide rules.

Compulsory vaccinations

Some experts have blamed Germany’s fourth wave on its relatively low vaccination rate of around 68 percent, compared with fellow EU countries such as Spain at 79 percent and Portugal at 86 percent.

Merkel’s outgoing government had always ruled out mandatory vaccination, but the measure is now backed by politicians from across the spectrum.

Germany already announced plans earlier this month to require health workers and soldiers to get inoculated against COVID-19.

A doctor vaccinates a patient against COVID-19 at a vaccination center in Sonthofen, southern Germany, on November 30, 2021. (Christof Stache/AFP)

Expanding that to the general public would see the country follow the example of neighboring Austria, which is planning mandatory vaccinations from February.

Greece has announced mandatory jabs for over 60s, with unvaccinated people facing fines if they don’t comply.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday it was time for the bloc to “think about mandatory vaccination” against COVID, though she also stressed it was up to individual states to make the decision.

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