German regional lockdown looms as Covid death toll hits 100,000

Many federal states effectively exclude unvaccinated from restaurants and bars

Visitors wear face masks at the Breitscheid square Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, on Thursday. Photograph: Getty

Visitors wear face masks at the Breitscheid square Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, on Thursday. Photograph: Getty

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As Germany’s Covid-19 death toll hit 100,000 on Thursday, departing chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Berlin’s incoming government to do more to halt the country’s runaway fourth wave.

Her likely successor Olaf Scholz, set to move into the chancellery next month, has promised to centralise expertise and expedite pandemic decision making in his office.

With Germany’s death toll now above 300 daily, regional shutdowns appear inevitable in some virus hot spots.

According to media reports, Mr Scholz thwarted a Merkel-lead push this week for a 14-day lockdown from Thursday, mirroring a 20-day lockdown that began last week in neighbouring Austria.

“It’s a very sad day that we’re mourning 100,000 deaths, with 300 a day on top,” said Dr Merkel. “We need more limitations of contacts and have to watch events very closely each day.”

Virus hot spot

The incoming government has promised to decide on further measures within 10 days. For now its new epidemic rule book, in effect since Wednesday, shifts main responsibility from Berlin to Germany’s 16 federal capitals.

On Thursday Saxony, a virus hot spot now transferring ICU patients to other states, said a “discussion” about a local lockdown next week was inevitable if runaway infection rates continue.

“The danger cannot be denied, it can only be controlled if there is a collective understanding and common awareness to avoid contact and stick to health measures,” said Michael Kretschmer, Saxony’s minister president. With a nod to last year’s dramatic first wave images from northern Italy, he added: “We don’t want to allow Bergamo in Saxony.”

With Germany’s national infections at record levels – 420 per 100,000 of population in the last seven days – many clinics already face an “acute overload”, according to Prof Gernot Marx, head of Germany’s Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine.

In the last days many federal states have imposed rules that effectively exclude unvaccinated people from restaurants, bars and cultural venues.

With vaccine take-up at 71 per cent, lower than many EU neighbours, German president Frank Walter Steinmeier warned that “we have to recognise that this is about life or death”.

Germany has yet to follow Austria and make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory, though demands are growing daily. On Thursday Bayern Munich announced that one of its footballers, Joshua Kimmich, one of Germany’s most prominent vaccine sceptics, had tested positive for Covid-19.

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