German lawmakers approved new measures Thursday to rein in record coronavirus infections after the head of Germany’s disease control agency warned the country could face a “really terrible Christmas.”
The measures passed in the Bundestag with votes from the centre-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. The three parties are currently negotiating to form a new government.
The legislation includes requirements for employees to prove they are vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces. They still need to be approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.
Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats had wanted to extend existing rules that served as the basis for numerous national and state-wide restrictions. Due to expire this month, the rules were criticized for marginalizing parliament despite its central role in the German political system.
Potential for a ‘terrible Christmas’
Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 65,371 new daily cases, shattering the previous 24-hour record and continuing an upward trend that experts have warned about for weeks.
“We are currently heading toward a serious emergency,” institute director Lothar Wieler said during an online debate late Wednesday. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.”
Wieler said Germany needs to increase its COVID-19 vaccination rate, which now stands at 67.7 per cent, to significantly above 75 per cent.
The eastern state of Saxony, which at 57.6 per cent has the country’s lowest immunization rate, is poised to impose a limited lockdown in response to soaring case numbers.
Gov. Michael Kretschmer said the state government would decide on a “hard and clear wave-breaker” Friday lasting two to three weeks.
Official figures show Saxony had more than 761 newly confirmed cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past week, the highest infection rate in Germany.
Germany’s independent vaccine advisory panel said Thursday that it recommends booster shots for all people over 18. But it said people who are over 70, at risk for other reasons or who haven’t received any vaccine yet should be prioritized.
Wieler warned that hospitals across Germany are struggling to find beds for COVID-19 patients and those with other illnesses.
Germany is far from the only country in Europe dealing with increasing caseloads and worry over health systems.
Officials in Slovakia, for instance, announced they will impose stricter measures for people who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus amid a surge in infections and hospital admissions that is stretching the health system, on Thursday.
“It is a lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Prime Minister Eduard Heger told a news conference.
The Czech government also approved new coronavirus restrictions that specifically target unvaccinated people amid a record surge of infections.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech said that most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show negative coronavirus test results in order to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and use hotels.
Only people who are vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 will remain eligible. There are exceptions for teenagers aged 12 to 18, people whose medical condition doesn’t allow vaccination and people who have received one shot of a vaccine.
Vojtech said the goal of the measures that will come into force on Monday is to motivate people to get vaccinated.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 9:30 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 255.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.1 million.
In Europe, coronavirus deaths in Russia have hit record highs for the second straight day. Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported Thursday that 1,251 people died of COVID-19 since the day before. The previous record of 1,247 deaths was recorded Wednesday.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan’s new stimulus package will include record spending of about $488 billion US due to huge payouts to cushion COVID-19’s economic blow, the Nikkei newspaper reported.
South Korea reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic as hundreds of thousands of masked students flocked to schools on Thursday for the country’s highly competitive college entrance exam amid growing concerns about the delta-driven spread.
About 509,000 students were taking the one-day exam at 1,395 sites across the nation, including hospitals and shelters.
The annual exam is crucial in the education-obsessed country, where careers, social standings and even marriage prospects greatly depend on which university a person attends.
Students were required to have their temperatures taken before entering classrooms, and those with fevers were sent to separate testing areas. The Education Ministry said that 68 infected students and 105 others in self-quarantine took the hours-long test in isolation.
In the Americas, the U.S. government will pay drugmaker Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million courses of its potential COVID-19 treatment if regulators approve it. Pfizer asked U.S. regulators on Tuesday to authorize the experimental pill, which has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with coronavirus infections.
The pharmaceutical giant reported earlier this month that its pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89 per cent among high-risk adults who had early symptoms of COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and will hold a public meeting on it later this month.
Brazil registered 11,977 new coronavirus cases and 373 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
In Africa, Nigeria’s economy grew just over four per cent in the third quarter, the statistics office said, lifted by higher oil prices, as the country targets mass vaccination from this month.
In the Middle East, Iran on Wednesday reported 6,251 new cases of COVID-19 and 125 additional deaths.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:50 a.m. ET