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Health

Germany Set to Decide on Post-Christmas COVID Restrictions

December 21, 2021

BERLIN — Germany’s leaders are set to decide on new restrictions, likely to come in after Christmas, aimed at slowing the spread of the new omicron variant of COVID-19. But plans so far fall short of a full lockdown.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors plan to consult later Tuesday after the government’s new panel of experts called for action to be taken within days and said that nationwide measures are needed, “in particular well-planned and well-communicated contact restrictions.”

Hours before the meeting, the national disease control center called on Twitter for “maximum contact restrictions” starting immediately until mid-January, and for the “reduction of travel to the absolutely necessary.”

Officials have said that night clubs likely will be closed regardless of local infection rates, on which closures currently depend. There are likely to be further restrictions on crowds at major events, while new contact restrictions are expected to be introduced for vaccinated people — with gatherings reportedly to be capped at 10 people.

One state, Hamburg, already moved Tuesday to impose such restrictions starting on Christmas Eve. There will be a 10-person limit on private meetings and dance events will be banned, effectively closing clubs, while restaurants and bars will have to close at 11 p.m. — except on New Year’s Eve, when they can open until 1 a.m.

Restrictions already in place target mainly the unvaccinated, with proof of vaccination or recovery required to enter nonessential stores among other things. Also, the sale of New Year fireworks has been banned nationwide.

Authorities have scrambled to speed up a booster campaign, with an average of around a million vaccine shots administered per day over the past week, the highest level of the pandemic so far. But they remain dissatisfied with the number of people who have been vaccinated in the first place — the proportion of the population that has received a full first round of vaccine stands at 70.4%, short of the minimum 75% the government aimed for. So far, 32.6% have received boosters.

Germany’s infection rate is, for now, drifting downward slowly. On Tuesday, the disease control center recorded 306.4 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, down from 375 a week earlier, with 23,428 cases reported over the past 24 hours.

However, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has warned that Germany faces “a massive fifth wave” because of omicron, which he says can’t realistically be prevented. All the same, he said on Sunday that there won’t be a lockdown before Christmas.

The disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Monday that people who have recovered or had a full first round of vaccine now face a “high” risk of infection, while it is “moderate” for those who have received a booster. It said the risk is “very high” for the unvaccinated.

 

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