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Germany to tighten coronavirus restrictions

BERLIN — The outgoing German government and the leaders of the country’s 16 states are planning to tighten pandemic rules, according to a draft document seen by POLITICO.

According to the plan which is set to be adopted Thursday, only those fully vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 will have access to venues such as theaters, cinemas and restaurants, which may ask guests to show a negative test if they see fit. Moreover, private gatherings that include unvaccinated people or people who haven’t recently recovered from COVID-19 can no longer exceed one household and a maximum of two individuals from a different household.

The stricter measures are to come as Germany continues to grapple with its fourth wave of coronavirus cases that has already overwhelmed hospital intensive care units in some regions and forced patients to be transferred out for treatment. On Wednesday, health authorities reported 67,186 new infections and 446 deaths from COVID-19.

Scientists have urged stricter restrictions for weeks, but decision-making in Berlin has been hampered because Germany is between governments. That has left lame-duck Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservatives lost a September general election, stuck an awkward “cohabitation” with her current finance minister and prospective successor Olaf Scholz, who is expected only to be confirmed in office next week at the head of a centre-left coalition.

Big events will also be subject to restrictions, meaning that the number of spectators must no longer exceed 5,000 indoors and 10,000 outdoors. Further rules will apply when fewer people are present, depending on the seating capacity of a venue. Regardless of the number of viewers, however, only the vaccinated and recovered will be able to attend big events.

In areas with more than 350 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days, indoor nightclubs will have to close and in schools the wearing of face masks will be mandatory for students of all age groups. The current nationwide weekly incidence is 443 cases per 100,000 people.

To get more Germans vaccinated, the federal government is also preparing to introduce mandatory vaccination in areas with particularly vulnerable people, while a general vaccine mandate will be voted on by parliament “in the near future.” According to the document, the government and the states will work to offer first and second vaccine doses and booster shots to everyone who requires them by Christmas.

Finally, an expert council of scientists will be set up in the chancellery and will convene on a weekly basis to make further suggestions for pandemic containment — confirming a pledge by Scholz last week when he announced a deal to form a government between his Social Democrats, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats.

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