Germany Imposes Tighter Curbs as Nation Braces for Omicron
(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed through tighter social-distancing restrictions to stave off the threat of a “massive” surge of the omicron Covid-19 variant just as families gather for the Christmas holidays.
The latest measures, which add to existing curbs that mainly affect the unvaccinated, include limiting gatherings to 10 people starting Dec. 28. The restrictions, which Scholz negotiated with regional leaders on Tuesday, also apply to those who are inoculated or have recovered from the virus.
“We can’t close our eyes to the next wave that’s beginning to appear in front of us,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin after meeting the country’s 16 state premiers. The chancellor said Germans should celebrate Christmas, but cautiously.
Officials have been stepping up warnings about the faster-spreading omicron strain, and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach raised the possibility last week of a “massive fifth wave” of infections.
The RKI public-health institute lifted its Covid-19 threat level to “very high” this week and updated its guidelines on Tuesday to urge Germans to adopt “maximum contact restrictions” immediately. Scholz will meet again with state leaders on Jan. 7.
Even as daily infections continue to dip, authorities are concerned by omicron’s explosive spread in countries such as the U.K. and Denmark, with a similar outbreak assumed to be imminent in Germany. The decision came as governments from Sweden to Austria introduced new restrictions on gatherings and travel.
The new measures nonetheless stop well short of the type of lockdown that kept Germans inside over last year’s holidays, and those imposed in countries like the neighboring Netherlands. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also ruled out a blanket lockdown before the holidays.
|German Pandemic Strategy|
|Source: chancellery draft|
The focus must remain on the efforts to roll out booster shots, accompanied by broader contact restrictions, according to Justice Minister Marco Buschmann.
“The situation remains serious, I don’t want to pretend otherwise,” Buschmann told Deutschlandfunk radio on Tuesday. “It’s never recommended to rule anything out completely in a dynamic situation, but at the moment we want to focus on the booster campaign and work with contact restrictions.”
Germany is registering more than a million vaccinations a day on weekdays, though most are booster shots, now covering almost a third of the population.
The country’s advisory committee on vaccines issued a recommendation Tuesday that people get booster shots after three months, rather than the previously recommended six months.
Just over 70% of Germans are fully vaccinated -- a relatively low percentage for a developed European Union country -- leaving some 13 million people above the age of 18 more vulnerable to the virus.
Measures on the table Tuesday also include closing nightclubs to limit social interactions over New Year festivities.
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, adopting a measure from last year’s holiday, issued a ban on the sale of fireworks over the New Year in an attempt to ease the burden on emergency medical staff.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.