Germany is 'on the verge of losing control' of Covid outbreaks in hotspot areas as vaccination rates continue to lag, with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning "these are very difficult weeks ahead of us".
The slow uptake of the vaccine prompted Chancellor Merkel on Saturday (local time) to call on all unvaccinated Germans to get their shots as quickly as possible as the country’s coronavirus infection rate hit the latest in a string of new highs and death numbers were growing.
“If we stand together, if we think about protecting ourselves and caring for others, we can save our country a lot this winter,” she said in her weekly podcast.
Still, the chancellor warned "these are very difficult weeks ahead of us".
Berlin's Charite Hospital head of virology Christian Drosten made a grim prediction, saying Germany could see an additional 100,000 Covid deaths if the spread of the virus continued unchallenged.
Dr Drosten said on an NDR radio podcast this number was a "conservative estimate", according to CNBC.
Only two-thirds of Germany's population fully vaccinated
Germany's disease control centre said the country's infection rate climbed to 277.4 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, up from 263.7 the previous day.
The Robert Koch Institute reported 45,081 new infections, two days after the daily total topped 50,000 for the first time.
Another 228 Covid-19 deaths brought Germany’s total in the pandemic so far to 97,617.
Germany has struggled to bring new momentum to its vaccination campaign lately, with a bit over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated. It has baulked so far at ordering vaccine mandates for any professional group.
Children under the age of 12, who cannot yet get vaccinated in Germany, are among the worst hit group.
The head of the German Teachers' Association warned on Saturday local health offices were struggling to keep control amid the many outbreaks in schools across the country.
“The reality is that we are already on the verge of losing control in some hotspot areas,” Heinz-Peter Meidinger told weekly paper Welt am Sonntag.
“We no longer know how to contain infection outbreaks in schools."
Also on Saturday, the government started offering free rapid Covid-19 tests again. They were scrapped a month ago in an effort to persuade more people to get vaccinated.
12,000 soldiers to be deployed to German hospitals
While the infection rate isn’t yet as high as in some other European countries, its relentless rise in Germany has set off alarm bells.
Outgoing Chancellor Merkel plans to meet with the country’s 16 state governors to coordinate nationwide measures next week, and parliament is mulling legislation that would provide a new legal framework for restrictions over the winter.
German magazine Der Spiegel reported the army wants to mobilise up to 12,000 soldiers until Christmas to help out in overwhelmed hospitals, support vaccination and testing efforts in nursing homes, and aid health offices with contact tracing of infected people to contain the virus.
More than 10,000 soldiers of Germany's Bundeswehr army have helped out in previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic, but the mobilisation underlines authorities expect the pandemic situation to get worse in coming weeks.
Already, several hospitals in the hard-hit eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia, as well as in Bavaria, have started transferring intensive care patients to other regions of the country because they are full, German news agency dpa reported.
Planned surgeries have been postponed as well so medical staff can focus on COVID-19 patients again.
Chancellor Merkel expressed her concern about the high number of intensive care patients and rising death numbers — especially in regions with low vaccination rates.
“Think about it again,” Chancellor Merkel said to those who still hadn't got the jab.
“We just need to grab it, grab it fast.
"I am asking you: Join us, and try to convince relatives and friends as well."
The chancellor also called on those who are vaccinated already to get a booster shot against Covid-19.
The booster vaccinations are "a real chance to break the severe fall and winter wave of the pandemic,” Chancellor Merkel said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.