Germans should avoid large gatherings amid a record surge in coronavirus infections, the country’s health agency chief said Friday, adding that he himself would be skipping next month’s New Year’s parties.
“It’s five minutes past midnight,” warned Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), as the nation braces for new restrictions to contain a ferocious fourth Covid wave.
Germany registered more than 48,000 new cases over the past 24 hours, RKI data showed, a day after breaching the 50,000 mark for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The weekly infection rate has soared to an all-time high of 263.7 per 100,000 people, and intensive care beds are filling up rapidly.
Several German cities kicked off months-long carnival celebrations on Thursday, with revellers required to prove they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid before entering the party zones.
The country’s much-loved Christmas market season is also on its way.
But Wieler said large gatherings “must be viewed very critically” and in some situations “clearly should be cancelled”.
Indoor celebrations especially can act as superspreader events “and everyone must really think about whether they want to expose themselves to that risk,” he told reporters in Berlin.
“I personally won’t be attending New Year’s Eve parties. But I urge people not to wait until then to think about their actions.”
Germany’s Covid surge has been blamed on a relatively low vaccination rate, with just over 67 percent of the population of some 83 million people fully inoculated.
Other European nations are battling similar Covid resurgences.
Austria has introduced rules that bar unvaccinated people from certain events and indoor venues. The Netherlands is planning a renewed “partial lockdown” as cases hit record levels.
– ‘Bitter December’ –
Health Minister Jens Spahn, speaking alongside Wieler, said the situation in Germany “is serious”.
He recommended that large gatherings be made safer by requiring the vaccinated and recovered to test negative before taking part, while barring the unvaccinated altogether — a system dubbed “2G Plus” in Germany.
Germany will re-introduce free rapid coronavirus testing for all in coming days, he said.
The federal government and leaders of Germany’s 16 regional states are meeting next Thursday to discuss joint measures to combat the pandemic, following criticisms of a confusing patchwork of different restrictions emerging.
Among the proposed measures are stricter curbs on the unvaccinated, for instance by excluding them from indoor dining or venues such as cinemas, gyms and theatres — which some states are already doing.
“We must do everything needed to break the current trend,” Spahn said. “Otherwise the nation will experience a bitter December.”