German chancellor Angela Merkel has said that people who are not vaccinated will be excluded from non-essential shops, cultural and recreational venues, and that parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate, as part of efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
She made the announcement as more than 70,000 newly confirmed infections were reported in the country in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Mrs Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering Covid-19 infections, which were more likely to be serious in those who had not been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Mrs Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”.
She said officials had also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year, an effort that would be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the jabs.
Mrs Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Mrs Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favour of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.
About 68.7% of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, below the minimum of 75% the government is aiming for.
There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, although opinion polls show most Germans are in favour.
Finance minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a centre-left coalition next week, said on Tuesday that he backed a general vaccine mandate, but favoured letting politicians vote according to their personal conscience rather than along party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,” he said.
The rise in Covid-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new Omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken.