Germany announced new restrictions Tuesday that will begin after Christmas to slow the spread of the new omicron variant, rules that will fall short of a full lockdown but will include contact restrictions even for vaccinated people.
“I can understand anyone who doesn’t want to hear about the coronavirus, mutations, and new virus variants,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a press conference Tuesday evening.
“But we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to this next wave.”
Among the new rules are limiting private gatherings to 10 people, closing nightclubs nationwide, and having large events like soccer matches held without an in-person audience.
The restrictions will go into effect nationwide on December 28, although states can implement the measures sooner.
Scholz said the government decided to wait until after Christmas to implement new national restrictions because family-focused holidays such as Christmas and Easter “have not proven to be major drivers of the pandemic.”
But he said restrictions on New Year’s celebrations are necessary to keep Germany’s health system from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
“This is no longer the time for parties and social evenings in big groups,” Scholz said.
Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors agreed on the new restrictions at a meeting Tuesday, after the government’s new panel of experts called for action to be taken within days nationwide because the omicron variant is racing across Europe.
Scholz and the state governors will meet again on Jan. 7 to discuss whether the measures should be continued or even tightened.
Hours before the meeting, the national disease control center called on Twitter for “maximum contact restrictions” starting immediately and lasting until mid-January, and for Germans to reduce their holiday travel “to the absolutely necessary.”
Restrictions already in place in Germany target mainly the unvaccinated, with proof of vaccination or recovery required to enter nonessential stores.
Also, the sale of New Year fireworks has been banned nationwide.
Scholz said the German government is also trying to speed up its booster vaccine campaign, aiming to give out an additional 30 million shots by the end of January by keeping some vaccination centers open over the holidays.
But authorities remain dissatisfied that only 70.4 percent of Germany’s population has been fully vaccinated and 32.6 percent have received boosters.
Germany’s infection rate is, for now, drifting downward slowly.
On Tuesday, the disease control center recorded 306.4 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, down from 375 a week earlier, with 23,428 new daily cases.