By FRANK JORDANS
BERLIN (AP) — 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 center-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 center-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.
Germany’s disease control agency, the 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%, to significantly above 75%.
The eastern state of Saxony, which at 57.6% has the country’s lowest immunization rate, is poised to impose a limited lockdown in response to soaring case numbers.
Governor 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.
Merkel was due to meet the governors of Germany’s 16 states Thursday to discuss joint efforts against the pandemic.
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