Germany on Thursday imposed a nation-wide lockdown for unvaccinated residents as officials outlined plans to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory.
The European country has been in fierce battle with its fourth and biggest wave of virus infections, which has been exacerbated by the discovery of the new Omicron strain.
In a bid to break the cycle, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in her last press briefing before leaving office that those who are not fully vaccinated will be shut out of all but the most essential venues like grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries.
Merkel and her successor Olaf Scholz broke the news after crisis talks with leaders from the country’s 16 states, CNN reported.
Under the new restrictions, the 31 per cent of the population that has yet to be vaccinated are only allowed to meet up with two people from another home.
Merkel, who hailed the restrictions as a necessary "national act of solidarity", said that in regions with a rate of 350 infections per 100,000 people a week, steps such as closing nightclubs and music venues and limiting indoor events to 50 people would kick in.
The ban doesn’t cover those with proof of having recovered from Covid-19.
Merkel and Scholz also agreed to pass legislation in the national parliament to make vaccination mandatory — a shocking move for the outgoing chancellor who said earlier this year that “there will be no compulsory vaccination”, The Telegraph reports.
“The fourth wave must be broken,” Merkel said.
“In view of this it is necessary to make vaccination compulsory. We all hope it would be better accepted on a voluntary basis.”
Vaccination status lost after nine months
Merkel said residents will lose their vaccination status nine months after their last jab. Booster shots are being highly encouraged by world leaders after 24 countries reported cases of Omicron.
"The situation is very serious," Merkel said during the news conference.
"The number of infections has stabilised, but on a far too high a level."
Merkel said an ethics committee will be asked to draft legislation to make vaccination mandatory and the Bundestag would debate and vote on the disputed measure in February at the latest.
Fears Germany's fourth wave could overwhelm ICUs
Authorities fear the fourth wave of Covid-19 could overwhelming intensive care units and on Thursday it resulted in more than 73,000 new infections and 388 deaths.
Virologists blame the renewed outbreak on resistance to vaccination by a significant section of society, and have criticised politicians for acting too late to rein in contagion.
Germany's vaccination rate of 69 per cent is around the EU average but lower than countries like Portugal and Ireland.
There have been signs that the curve showing new infections is starting to flatten.
Scholz, who will formally take power next week, said Germany would seek to administer 30 million more jabs by Christmas.
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