Germany Bans Unvaccinated From Nonessential Stores, Could Enact National Mandate

Germany has begun excluding citizens not vaccinated against COVID-19 from nonessential places across the country.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the announcement during a press conference on Thursday. Unvaccinated people will no longer be permitted to enter nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues. This announcement also coincided with the update that German officials will begin considering a national vaccine mandate that the Chancellor is backing.

"The situation in our country is serious," said Merkel during the press conference.

Around 68.7 percent of Germany's population of 83.2 million people are fully vaccinated. Protests against enacting vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 reduction measures have been occurring across the country. However, the Associated Press reported that a majority of Germans are in favor of mandatory vaccination.

These measures come as COVID-19 woes in the country continue. Germany has already recorded new cases attributed to the Omicron coronavirus variant, and hospitals are reporting intensive care bed shortages. These issues could be exacerbated by the ongoing government transition as current finance minister Olaf Scholz is preparing to replace Merkel as German Chancellor. Scholz expressed support for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations during the press conference.

"If we had a higher vaccination rate," he said, "we wouldn't be discussing this now."

The Robert Koch Institute, the disease control agency in Germany, reported 73,209 new infections on Thursday, along with 388 new deaths. Over 102,000 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. Parliament will debate the mandatory vaccination proposal with the country's national ethics committee.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Merkel and Scholz
Unvaccinated people will no longer be permitted to enter nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues in Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and Acting German Minister of Finance and Social Democratic Party (SPD) top candidate for the federal elections Olaf Scholz, right, attends a press conference after a video conference with German State Premiers about the current coronavirus situation, at the Chancellery on December 2 in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Filip Singer - Pool/Getty Images

Merkel called the potential vaccination measure an "act of national solidarity."

She said officials 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 will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.

If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.

The current vaccination rate is far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.

Scholz favors letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.

Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany.

Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany's political structure—with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations—and the ongoing transition at the federal level.

To reduce the pressure on hospitals over the festive period, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off during New Year's in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries because of mishandled fireworks.

The new measures will take efffect once Germany's 16 states incorporate them into existing rules, likely in the coming days.

Patient Transportation
The Robert Koch Institute reported 73,209 new infections on December 2, along with 388 new deaths. A COVID-19 patient is transported by Bundeswehr medical personnel to an A310 MedEvac aircraft of the German Air Force at Dresden International Airport, Germany on December 1. Robert Michael/dpa via AP