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VOL. 45 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 26, 2021

Germany to tighten COVID measures, decisions on Thursday

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BERLIN (AP) — Germany's national and state leaders will decide Thursday on new measures to tackle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, officials said after the country's outgoing and incoming chancellors conferred with governors.

The measures are likely to include restrictions on shopping for unvaccinated people and limiting crowds at soccer matches, along with possible moves toward a vaccine mandate for all.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, held talks with Germany's 16 state governors on Tuesday, hours after the country's top court strengthened politicians' hand by rejecting complaints against curfews and other restrictions imposed earlier this year.

Many states have tightened rules of their own accord, but experts and politicians have called for more coordinated national action as infection rates hit new highs. Germany's federal structure and the transition from Merkel's national government to a new one under Scholz since the country's September election have slowed decision-making.

Tuesday's talks brought agreement that "additional measures" are needed to reduce infections and pressure on hospitals, Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.

Proposals include contact restrictions for unvaccinated people in particular, requiring people to present proof of vaccination or recovery at nonessential shops, and restrictions on major events, he said.

In addition to limited vaccine mandates for some facilities that are already in the works, he said there is also the proposal that "a prompt decision on a general vaccine mandate should be prepared." Neighboring Austria has already decided to make vaccinations compulsory from February.

Seibert said that a new permanent expert group to advise officials on how to tackle the pandemic, whose creation Scholz announced last week, will be headed by Gen. Carsten Breuer, the military's head of domestic operations.

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. The country's disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said 45,753 cases were reported over the past 24 hours. Another 388 deaths were recorded, bringing Germany's total so far to 101,344.

At least 68.5% of the population of 83 million is now fully vaccinated, but that's below the 75% 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.-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.

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Follow AP's pandemic coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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