Mandatory Vaccination Could Be Among Measures Germans Face as COVID Cases Rise Sharply

Germany's national and state leaders will decide Thursday on what kinds of measures they will implement to curb a recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, spoke with the country's 16 governors Tuesday, agreeing that "additional measures" need to be taken.

New infections have increased in recent weeks. The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's disease control center, reported 45,753 cases in the past 24 hours. It also recorded 388 deaths, bringing the country's current total 101,344.

According to the Associated Press, several German states have already tightened COVID rules on their own, but many politicians are pushing for more coordinated national rules. However, efforts have been slowed by the transition from Merkel's national government to Scholz's.

Proposed measures include contact restrictions for unvaccinated people, requiring proof of vaccination in nonessential shops and limiting crowds in sports stadiums.

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said there is also a proposal stating "a prompt decision on a general vaccine mandate should be prepared."

Scholz also announced that a permanent group of experts would be formed to advise officials on how to fight the virus. Seibert said General Carsten Breuer, the military's head of domestic operations, will lead the group.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Cologne, Germany, COVID-19
Several German states have already tightened COVID rules on their own, but many politicians are pushing for more coordinated national rules. Lawmakers will decide on new measures on Thursday. Above, a sign in the pedestrian zone indicates that masks are mandatory in Cologne on November 30, 2021. Oliver Berg/dpa via AP

Neighboring Austria has already decided to make vaccinations compulsory from February.

Officials stressed the need to step up Germany's vaccination campaign and allow more people to perform vaccinations.

"It has taken a bit long, there has been back and forth and some conflict on the question of who should do what when, but as of today that seems solvable," Markus Soeder, the governor of Bavaria, said after Tuesday's videoconference. "Final decisions" need to be hammered out at the meeting of national and state leaders on Thursday, he said.

The governor of the worst-affected state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, said he expects an agreement then to play Bundesliga soccer matches without spectators. Soeder signaled there's still some disagreement on that, but said that "if Christmas markets are closed, it is not consistent to have full stadiums." He said he would propose excluding spectators until at least the end of the year.

New infections have soared in recent weeks in the European Union's most populous country—particularly in the east and south, with hospitals there already transferring intensive care patients to other parts of Germany. They have hit levels much higher than those the country saw earlier this year, though many more Germans are vaccinated now than they were then.

On Tuesday, the country's seven-day infection rate dipped for the first time in over three weeks but, at 452.2 new cases per 100,000 residents, was only just short of Monday's record of 452.4.

At least 68.5 percent of the population of 83 million is now fully vaccinated, but that's below the 75 percent minimum threshold the government hoped for.

Earlier Tuesday, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court found that the most controversial measures contained in federal "emergency brake" legislation that was in place from April until the end of June were in line with the constitution. Those included a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and school closures in areas with high coronavirus infection rates.

That added to pressure for officials to act—as has the appearance in Germany and many other countries of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Frankfurt, Germany, COVID-19, vaccination center
Several German states have already tightened COVID rules on their own, but many politicians are pushing for more coordinated national rules. Lawmakers will decide on new measures on Thursday. Above, people line up at the entrance to the COVID-19 vaccination center at the Frankfurt exhibition grounds on November 30, 2021. Arne Dedert/dpa via AP