BERLIN (AP) — Germany's government refused to back calls Friday for a swift and sharp lockdown to curb the country's worsening coronavirus situation, which saw daily confirmed cases hit a new peak and is putting hospitals under severe strain.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said contacts between people need to be sharply reduced, warning that “the situation is dramatically serious, more serious than it's been at any point in the pandemic.”
But he declined to say whether he would back blanket restrictions of the kind seen during previous stages of the pandemic, when schools, non-essential stores and other areas of public life were shuttered. Austria, faced with a similar surge in cases, this week ordered a ten-day lockdown for everybody, renewable for a further ten days.
A spokesman for outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel likewise refused to be drawn on whether she favored triggering the so-called emergency brake measures last used in April.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said there were “political realities that need to be acknowledged," such as the new majority in parliament since Germany's election on Sept. 26 that Merkel's party narrowly lost. Her government's junior partner, the center-left Social Democrats, have negotiated to form a new government with two other parties.
The new government is expected to take over in early December, but the transition period — with Merkel as caretaker — has been blamed for paralyzing Germany's response to the pandemic.
The country's disease control agency said 76,414 more cases were reported in the past 24 hours, a new record. The Robert Koch Institute said Germany also had 357 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the outbreak to 100,476.
Responding to a newly discovered variant that's been spreading in South Africa, Spahn said airlines coming from there would only be able to transport German citizens. Travelers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not, he said.
“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” he said.
Spahn noted that Germany was having to organize large-scale transfers of patients within the country for the first time since the outbreak began in early 2020, including with help from the military.
The Defense Ministry said a Luftwaffe A310 medevac plane will fly seriously ill patients from the southern town of Memmingen to North Rhine-Westphalia state Friday afternoon.
Hospitals in southern and eastern regions of Germany have warned they are running out of intensive care beds because of the large numbers of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.
The governor of Saxony, the state with the highest per capita infection rate in Germany, called for a meeting of federal and state officials planned for Dec. 9 to be brought forward.
“Hesitancy will be punished,” Michael Kretschmer told German media group RND.
“We need to scale down public and economic life as much as possible and provide financial help to affected companies,” he was quoted as saying.
In the meantime Germany is releasing 18 million doses of vaccine over a ten-day period to meet demand for boosters and first shots for people who haven't had any yet.
About 68.3% of the country's 83 million inhabitants are fully vaccinated, below the 75% minimum threshold eyed by the government.
Follow AP's coverage of the coronavirus pandemic: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
Frank Jordans, The Associated Press