Germany May Unveil Tighter Social Contact Rules to Combat Omicron
(Bloomberg) -- Germany is bracing for tighter contact restrictions after the government’s new panel of health experts called for “coordinated countermeasures” to tackle the fast-spreading omicron variant and help protect the health system.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz will host talks with regional officials Tuesday to discuss stricter curbs that go beyond those already in place in Europe’s biggest economy, as well as how to further accelerate Germany’s vaccination campaign.
Measures will likely include reducing the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings and closing nightclubs to limit social interaction over the vacation period, according to Economy Minister Robert Habeck.
“It’s in everyone’s interest not to shut down all public activity, schools and places of work ,” Habeck, who is also vice chancellor, said Monday in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. “If we’re clever then we can go about it in a different way,” he added. “If we act early and decisively then we’ll hopefully be spared anything else.”
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Sunday ruled out a strict lockdown like the one imposed in neighboring Netherlands, but warned that a “critical number” of omicron cases has already been exceeded.
“This wave can no longer be stopped completely,” Lauterbach said in an interview with ARD television. “And we have to face it, that’s very clear.”
Since taking office this month, Lauterbach has stepped up warnings about the omicron strain that has taken rapid hold in countries like the U.K. and Denmark. He has also been pushing hard to persuade vaccine holdouts to get immunized and to speed up efforts to administer booster shots.
Germany’s inoculation campaign has been relatively sluggish, and more than a fifth of the population aged five and older -- or about 18 million people -- who are eligible have yet to be vaccinated, according to health ministry data.
The government’s health experts painted a bleak picture in a statement after their meeting Sunday, saying that they expect “enormous challenges in the coming weeks and months, which will require joint and timely action from all.”
Germany is already in what officials have termed a “lockdown of the unvaccinated,” under which only those who are inoculated or recovered can access non-essential stores, hotels and restaurants.
They warned against interpreting the recent decline in the infection rate as a “sign of easing,” and said that omicron could lead to an “explosive spread.”
They also said that the new variant could pose a significant threat to “critical infrastructure” including hospitals, police, fire fighters, telecommunications and electricity and water supplies.
“We are actually examining how we can protect critical infrastructure,” Lauterbach told ARD. “We are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening. But we have to be prepared.”
The government panel also highlighted the importance of clear communication of government measures to a population “exhausted by a nearly two-year pandemic.”
“In this highly dynamic situation, the omicron wave can only be overcome through resolute and sustained political action,” the experts said.
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