Germans across large parts of the country face a tightening of rules governing both private and public spaces in an effort to slow down a wave of coronavirus infections triggered by the Omicron variant.
Gatherings both indoors and outdoors are to be restricted in size from Monday, December 27, 2021, with leisure facilities – from gyms to swimming pools and nightclubs to cinemas – shutting in several states and restaurants facing earlier closing times.
New-year fireworks displays, typically carried out by private households and held on the majority of German streets, have been canceled for the second year in a row.
Tighter protection measures will apply to those who have so far not taken up the offer to be vaccinated or those who for medical reasons are not able to do so, but the vaccinated and those who have recovered from Covid-19 will also face a new range of limitations.
Private gatherings are being restricted in areas that had not already introduced the rule in the run-up to Christmas to a maximum of 10 people, for those who are vaccinated or recovered. In the case of unvaccinated people, up to two other external people per household are allowed to come together. Children under 14 are excluded from the quota.
A requirement to wear a medical mask, introduced almost a year ago, remains in place in shops and on public transport, as does the need to show a vaccine certificate in those venues where access is only possible for those who are vaccinated.
Policymakers say the plan is to dampen the spread of the far more infectious Omicron variant, and to use the time gained from slowing it down, to deliver booster shots to as many Germans as possible.
Just under 71% of Germans have so far received two doses of vaccine, and just under 36% have received a booster jab.
Before Christmas, the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, set a target for vaccines to have been delivered to 80% of the population by 7 January. But the government admitted on Monday it was behind schedule and would have to extend the deadline to the end of January.
Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has repeatedly said he is closely observing events in the UK and speaking to his counterpart there, where Omicron is thought to be around two to three weeks ahead of where it is in Germany.
Omicron has so far been detected in all 16 German states but has not yet got the upper hand over the Delta variant, which remains dominant but is expected to be overtaken in the coming days.
Experts say Germany could have up to 700,000 cases a day leading to mass quarantines. Emergency measures have been put in place to allow the army and the federal agency for technical relief to step in and ensure vital services are upheld such as refuse collection and energy provision.
Resistance to the protective measures led to new demonstrations on Sunday, most visibly in Berlin and the city of Schweinfurt in Bavaria, where police were attacked as protesters turned violent. More protests are scheduled across the country in the coming days.
Politicians have been reluctant to talk of introducing a further nationwide lockdown, hoping instead that the current wave of measures will suffice.
Christian Drosten, head virologist at the Charité hospital in Berlin, said it “remained to be seen when and whether” the measures would work. If not, he suggested introducing restrictions that would only allow those who had been boosted with a third injection and therefore had far greater protection than those who were double-jabbed, to enjoy wider freedom.
Markus Söder, the leader of Bavaria, led the call by politicians to reduce the length of time for which people had to go into quarantine, to just five days if they were symptom-free, arguing that otherwise large parts of German life would be in danger of grounding to a halt as Omicron took hold.