Germany sees surge in COVID cases, mulls new measures
BERLIN — Germany's disease control agency reported 52,826 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, stoking calls for fresh measures to curb steadily rising infections rates.
The Robert Koch Institute said 294 more people died in Germany of COVID-19 since the previous day, bringing the country's pandemic death toll to 98,274. The number of infections recorded since the start of the pandemic has reached almost 5.13 million.
"The current pandemic situation in Germany is dramatic, I can't say it any other way," outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "The fourth wave is hitting our country with full force."
The three political parties negotiating to form Germany's next government have agreed on a series of public health measures for parliament to debate Thursday, German news agency dpa reported.
They include stricter workplace rules and sharply increasing the penalties for forging vaccine or test certificates to allow a maximum of five years imprisonment for professional gangs selling such fakes, according to dpa. Employees would also get the right to work from home again, where possible.
Infections have shot up in recent weeks, particularly among unvaccinated people, with southern and eastern Germany the hardest hit.
The district of Meissen, near Dresden, reported almost 1,305 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past week. Saxony state, where Meissen is located, plans to introduce new social distancing rules and to require people to show vaccine or recovery certificates to enter all stores except supermarkets and pharmacies.
Saxony has the lowest vaccination rate in Germany, with 57.6% of the population having had a full course compared to the national average of 67.7%
German Health Minister Jens Spahn has called on doctors not to be too strict about waiting at least six months before giving patients vaccine booster shots.
Merkel planned to meet Thursday with the governors of Germany's 16 states to coordinate the country's response to the latest surge in infections.
"The meeting is overdue," Merkel said, adding that she hoped officials would agree on a threshold for imposing additional measures that takes into account how many people are hospitalized.
"It would be a disaster to act only when the intensive care units are full, because then it would be too late," she said in a speech to mayors from across Germany.
Meanwhile, authorities in neighboring Austria have said travelers will need to show a negative PCR test upon entering the country; previously, results from the cheaper lateral flow tests were allowed.
The Alpine nation on Monday implemented a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people who haven't recently had COVID-19.