Germany to Limit Private Gatherings to 10, Close Nightclubs as Omicron Variant Spreads

Leaders in Germany announced they would implement more COVID-19 restrictions across the country beginning December 28.

The rules apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens. Under the new restrictions, private gatherings will be capped at 10 people, nightclubs will be required to close, and sports matches will have to proceed without in-person audiences.

The decision came after Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany's 16 state governors met Tuesday to discuss the measures.

"This is no longer the time for parties and social evenings in big groups," Scholz said at a press conference.

The Robert Koch Institute, the country's disease control center, took to Twitter ahead of the meeting and called for immediate "maximum contact restrictions" and the "reduction of travel to the absolutely necessary."

Though Germany's infection rate is trending downward, with the institute reporting 306.4 new cases per 100,000 residents Tuesday as opposed to last week's 375, health authorities are still pushing for increased vaccinations to get ahead of the Omicron variant.

Currently, 70.4 percent of the country's population has received at least the first dose of the vaccine, which falls slightly short of its 75 percent goal. Also, only 32.6 percent of the population has received a booster.

Scholz and the governors will reconvene on January 7 to discuss whether to continue or update the measures.

Scholz said he and the officials decided to wait until after Christmas because family-centric holiday gatherings "have not proven to be major drivers of the pandemic," unlike New Year's celebrations.

Olaf Scholz, Germany, COVID-19
German leaders are implemented new COVID-19 restrictions to begin after Christmas. Above, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (center), North-Rhine Westphalia's State Premier Hendrik Wuest (left), and Berlin's Mayor Franziska Giffey, address a press conference following consultations with the premiers of the German federal states on measures to curb the coronavirus, at the Chancellery in Berlin on Dec. 21. Photo by Bernd von Jutrczenka/AFP via Getty Images

"I can understand anyone who doesn't want to hear about the coronavirus, mutations and new virus variants," Scholz said. "But we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to this next wave."

Scholz and the 16 state governors agreed on the new restrictions at a meeting Tuesday, after the government's new panel of experts called for action to be taken within days nationwide because the Omicron variant is racing across Europe.

Officials have said that nightclubs likely will be closed regardless of local infection rates, on which closures currently depend. There are also likely to be further restrictions on crowds at major events.

One state, Hamburg, already moved Tuesday to impose such restrictions starting on Christmas Eve. There will be a 10-person limit on private meetings and dance events will be banned, effectively closing clubs, while restaurants and bars will have to close at 11 p.m. — except on New Year's Eve, when they can open until 1 a.m.

Authorities have scrambled to speed up a booster campaign, with an average of around a million vaccine shots administered per day over the past week, the highest level of the pandemic so far. But they remain dissatisfied with the number of people who have been vaccinated in the first place.

The Robert Koch Institute reported 23,428 cases over the past 24 hours.

The disease control center said Monday that people who have recovered or had a full first round of vaccine now face a "high" risk of infection, while it is "moderate" for those who have received a booster. It said the risk is "very high" for the unvaccinated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Berlin, Germany, COVID-19
Germany's leaders announce new restrictions coming after Christmas aimed at slowing the spread of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Above, people walk on a shopping road in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 21. Michael Sohn/AP Photo