Germany has imposed a de facto lockdown on people not vaccinated against Covid-19, limiting their contacts and excluding them from all but essential shops and services in a bid to break a record fourth wave of infections.
In her likely last act as chancellor, Angela Merkel framed the measures on Thursday as an "act of national solidarity" and spoke out in favour of a vaccine mandate, echoing her successor, Olaf Scholz.
“We have to break the fourth wave,” said Dr Merkel. “You can see from the decisions that we view the situation as very serious.”
After a video conference with the country’s 16 federal leaders on Thursday, Germany’s outgoing and incoming chancellors presented common rules for the entire country. Until Christmas, only those vaccinated against or recovered from Covid-19 are permitted into most shops, restaurants, cultural venues and Christmas markets. Unvaccinated people will be allowed meet only two people from another household.
Regions with high infection rates will have tighter rules for all: clubs and discos will close, indoor gatherings will be limited to 50 people and sport events limited to maximum 50 per cent capacity. Bavaria has gone further, allowing soccer matches to proceed only without fans.
In a push to boost the vaccination rate, still below 70 per cent of the population, Germany is to allow chemists administer the Covid-19 vaccine, ending a monopoly by doctors.
‘No red lines’
After weeks of debate, Dr Merkel and Mr Scholz have joined a growing consensus to make Covid vaccines compulsory.
“We all hoped that a voluntary approach would be better accepted,” she conceded. “We lobbied, on all fronts, for people to get vaccinated but see there is still a gap in vaccinations, meaning vaccinated people face restrictions and that the health system is at the brink of overload.”
After days of high-stakes brinkmanship, against a backdrop of record infections and deaths, Mr Scholz insisted that his government – to be sworn in next week – would accept “no red lines” when it came to tackling Covid-19.
That was a clear nod to his liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), which resists any kind of new national lockdown.
In an interview with Die Zeit weekly, Mr Scholz made a series of digs at his predecessor’s style of leadership, promising a more open style of cabinet and greater co-ordination regarding the pandemic. He has already set up a permanent central crisis committee of experts to meet with him every day in the chancellery.
Asked whether such a committee should have been set up two years ago, he answered: “Correct.”
“I want to make my own mark,” he added. “This is about acting, not show.”
Dr Merkel was given an official send-off on Thursday evening with a “grand tattoo” by Germany’s Bundeswehr armed forces.
In keeping with tradition, the army band agreed to play three requests from the departing leader. Her choices were a hit by East German punk singer Nina Hagen (Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen), a chanson by Berlin singer Hildegard Knef (Für mich soll's rote Rosen regnen) and a Johann Sebastian Bach hymn (Grosser Gott, wir loben dich).