Germany has recorded its highest daily Covid death toll in nine months as the Omicron variant spreads in Europe.
Hospitals have warned the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above last winter’s peak.
Germany reported 67,186 new Covid cases on Wednesday, up 302 from a week ago, and 446 deaths - the highest daily figure since 18 February, bringing the overall death toll to 101,790.
In total, four people in southern Germany have tested positive for the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant.
The new strain has already been identified in at least 11 countries, including Germany, the UK, Spain and Netherlands.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has labelled it a variant of concern and it has concerned scientists due to its multiple mutations.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the challenge posed by the strain was a "race against time," urging all involved to "prepare for the worst."
“You have read about the multiple mutations and what that might be, and we know from our experience with the Delta data variant that it is a race against time,” she said.
Ms Von der Leyen said EU countries should consider mandatory vaccinations because there were many who had not received a shot.
Germany looks set to reach a peak of its fourth wave of Covid-19 infections by mid-December that could mean 6,000 intensive care beds will be occupied by Christmas, the country's association for intensive care medicine said.
Around 4,600 intensive care beds are currently occupied by Covid-19 patients, compared with a previous high of 5,745 on 3 January when Germany was in a full lockdown.
However, the country's association for intensive care medicine (DIVI) said a shortage of nursing staff means Germany now only has about 9,000 beds where patients can receive artificial respiration, down from 12,000 a year ago.
Andreas Schuppert, a forecaster for DIVI told a news conference he was "moderately optimistic" the peak in new cases would come in the next two weeks, but that would take time to feed through to hospitals.
Germany's federal and regional governments agreed on Tuesday to take action, including stepping up the vaccination campaign and restricting contact, especially for unvaccinated people.
Already criticised by scientists for acting too late, the leaders agreed to take firm decisions on Thursday on proposals such as compelling customers to show proof of vaccination or recovery in shops and limiting numbers of people at big events.
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