Germany ramps up pressure on unvaccinated, restricts leisure activities

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Germany is increasing pressure on citizens to get COVID-19 shots, announcing plans to restrict many leisure activities for the unvaccinated in most of the country in a bid to check surging infections.

Chancellor Angela Merkel presented a catalog of measures on Thursday that will allow access to restaurants, bars and public events in areas with high hospitalization rates only for people who are vaccinated or have recovered. While avoiding a renewed lockdown, it’s the latest attempt by leaders across the European Union to stem the latest wave of the pandemic.

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Greece expanded restrictions for unvaccinated residents on Thursday, while the Czech Republic and Slovakia imposed wider bans. The Netherlands resumed a partial lockdown last week and Austria is using police checks to deter people from breaching its vaccine requirements.

“We are in the midst of the fourth wave and have to deal with a dramatic situation and draw the needed conclusions,” Merkel told reporters after a meeting of national and regional leaders.

Extraordinary measures “are necessary and justified,” the leaders said in a statement. They’ll apply to a broad range of activities and venues from sports and cultural events to restaurants, bars and gyms.

Germany, which is Europe’s biggest economy, reported more than 65,000 infections in a day for the first time Thursday and hospitals faced with stretched intensive-care units are sounding the alarm.

“There are regions where the situation is serious, some where it’s very serious, and others where it is extremely serious,” Andreas Bovenschulte, the mayor of the city state of Bremen, said Friday in an interview with DLF radio. “We have to deal with that, we can’t just let it happen.”

The new rules kick in above a certain level of hospital admissions, and restrictions get progressively tighter based on three different thresholds.

According to official data, almost all of Germany exceeds the lower threshold, which was set at three hospitalizations per 100,000 people on a rolling seven-day average. Business owners and event organizers face fines if they don’t enforce the rules.

Officials also agreed on a requirement for employers to let employees work from home, and to resume free Covid tests, which were suspended during a relative lull in new cases.

Lothar Wieler, head of the RKI public-health agency, painted a grim picture this week.

“We have never been as alarmed as we are now” and the news from hospitals is “super gloomy,” German media quoted him as saying during a panel discussion on Wednesday.

Germany’s Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, who are in talks to form a government to succeed Merkel’s center-right administration, used their lower-house majority on Thursday to approve nationwide measures giving states a legal basis to impose restrictions.

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