By Miranda Murray
BERLIN -German leaders are considering tougher contact restrictions and an accelerated booster campaign among other measures after experts warned that the Omicron coronavirus variant could bring critical infrastructure to breaking point.
Vice-chancellor and economy minister Robert Habeck, speaking ahead of a meeting on Tuesday, said contacts would have to be reduced for vaccinated people indoors.
“I am sure that clubs and discos will close,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday.
The premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wuest, made similar comments.
“We should be careful about ruling anything out,” he told broadcaster ARD. “The big New Year’s Eve parties won’t be able to take place this year.”
A German Red Cross spokesperson spoke of an increasingly dire situation as more emergency personnel, 90% of whom are vaccinated, are becoming infected while intensive care units and emergency rooms are at the limits of their capacity.
“The situation is putting both physical and psychological strain on emergency service personnel,” the spokesperson said.
The German Hospital Federation (DKG) has warned the fifth wave could bring a deadly twofold blow of seriously ill patients and massive staff shortages due to coronavirus infections.
“In Britain and Denmark we’re seeing that the high infection figures also mean that more healthcare workers are calling in sick due to becoming infected themselves,” DKG Chairman Gerald Gass was quoted as saying in Rheinische Post newspaper on Monday.
According to a draft document seen by Reuters, access to restaurants, theatres and other cultural venues will remain open to the vaccinated and recovered, who will also be limited to a maximum of 10 people from Dec. 28 for private gatherings.
The government’s scientific advisory panel said on Sunday it was necessary to further limit contact, with data so far showing that boosters alone would not be enough to contain the spread of the virus.
The panel said arrangements for the first months of 2022 involving all levels of government needed to be decided on in the coming days and underscored the need for a quick response.
A report in the Bild newspaper citing government sources said on Monday all departments and all state and federal ministries have been instructed to draw up emergency plans in case workers and civil servants have to enter quarantine due to an infection.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has ruled out a lockdown before Christmas and said he did not expect a “hard lockdown” after the holidays either.
At the same time, Lauterbach called for parliament to decide on mandatory vaccinations as soon as possible to stem the coming waves.
Some 70.3% of Germany’s total population are considered fully vaccinated, while 31.5% have received an additional booster shot, according to official figures.
In Berlin, the recommended amount of time between the second shot and a booster was shortened to three months, the senator in charge of health for Berlin, Dilek Kalayci, said.
Kalayci added that she was expecting Germany’s vaccination advisory commission STIKO, which currently recommends six months between shots, will follow suit in the near future.
The Robert Koch Institute infectious disease body reported 16,086 new coronavirus cases within 24 hours on Monday, the smallest rise since early November. The death toll increased by 119 on Monday, to reach a total of 108,352.