BERLIN -- Germany passed a grim milestone on Thursday: 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. In recent weeks, the situation has spiraled out of control as cases have spiked and intensive care beds have become scarce in some regions.
The country has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe -- only 68% of the population has been vaccinated, according to recent health statistics.
"Sadly, the coronavirus still hasn’t been beaten. Every day we see new records as far as the number of infections are concerned,” newly elected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a press conference on Wednesday.
As of Friday morning, the country’s disease control agency, the RKI, said a record 76,414 cases had been reported in the past 24 hours.
With winter around the corner, Europe has once again become the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported deaths due to COVID-19 had reached 4,200 a day, double the death rate at the end of September. The organization warned that a further 700,000 people in the European region could die by March given the current trend.
The rise in cases is mainly do to the more contagious Delta variant and the fact that more people are staying indoors as winter begins. The number of people who remain unvaccinated is around 54%, according to WHO Executive Director Robb Butler.
“Let me be absolutely clear, the majority of people in ICU, in intensive care units and ICU today, are the unvaccinated" Butler said in an interview with Sky News.
Germany, like many countries around Europe, has moved ahead with stricter measures to cope, some of which apply to the entire country. Most blanket rules affect the unvaccinated population, which now need to show proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative COVID-19 test to enter public transport. Germany already had rules in place requiring similar proof when entering indoor spaces like bars, restaurants and entertainment facilities.
Yet each of Germany’s 16 states can also choose to implement their own measures. In Bavaria and Saxony where vaccination rates are low and hospitalization rates are rising to worrying levels, stricter lockdowns have been put in place. The seasonally popular Christmas markets were canceled for the second year in a row.
In Bavaria, a region with 13 million residents, politicians face grave crises in dealing with the growing number of cases.
“The situation is overwhelming and just keeps escalating,” the region’s leader, Markus Söder, told reporters. News agency DPA reported that a military plane will fly seriously ill patients from the Bavarian town of Memmingen to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Friday afternoon.
Söder is a proponent of making vaccinations mandatory.
“Compulsory vaccination does not violate the right to freedom -- far more, it is a precondition for us to win back our freedom," he wrote in an op-ed with politician Winfried Kretschmann of German region Baden-Württemberg in Tuesday's newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Germany is mulling compulsory vaccination after Austria became the first European country to announce a vaccine mandate. It will go into effect February 2022. The announcement brought tens of thousands of people out to protest on the streets of Vienna last weekend.
On Monday, the country went into its fourth national lockdown, set to last for 10 days and likely to be extended to 20 days. Although less strict than previous lockdowns of 2020, citizens may only leave their houses for specific purposes, such as buying groceries, exercising or going to the doctor. Only 66% of the country of 8.9 million people have been vaccinated.
With the rise in COVID cases, particularly in northern Europe, and the introduction of new measures restricting access of unvaccinated people from public life, tensions seem to be flaring up in certain populations. Belgium and the Netherlands saw violent protests against lockdown measures last weekend.
Complicating matters is a worrying new virus variant B.1.1.529 which been discovered in southern Africa. As of Friday morning, a number of countries have implemented travel bans, including Germany, Italy and the U.K.