BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday called on all unvaccinated Germans to get their shots as quickly as possible as the country’s coronavirus infection rate hit the latest in a string of new highs and death numbers were growing.
“If we stand together, if we think about protecting ourselves and caring for others, we can save our country a lot this winter,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast.
Still, the chancellor warned that "these are very difficult weeks ahead of us.”
Germany’s disease control center said that the country's infection rate climbed to 277.4 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, up from 263.7 the previous day.
The Robert Koch Institute reported 45,081 new infections, two days after the daily total topped 50,000 for the first time.
Another 228 COVID-19 deaths brought Germany’s total in the pandemic so far to 97,617.
While the infection rate isn’t yet as high as in some other European countries, its relentless rise in Germany has set off alarm bells. Outgoing Chancellor Merkel plans to meet with the country’s 16 state governors to coordinate nationwide measures next week, and parliament is mulling legislation that would provide a new legal framework for restrictions over the winter.
German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the army wants to mobilize up to 12,000 soldiers until Christmas to help out in overwhelmed hospitals, support vaccination and testing efforts in nursing homes, and aid health offices with contact tracing of infected people to contain the virus.
More than 10,000 soldiers of Germany's Bundeswehr army have helped out in previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic, but the mobilization underlines that the authorities expect the pandemic situation to get worse in coming weeks.
Already, several hospitals in the hard-hit eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia, as well as in Bavaria, have started transferring intensive care patients to other regions of the country because they are full, German news agency dpa reported. Planned surgeries have been postponed as well so medical staff can focus on COVID-19 patients again.
Merkel expressed her concern about the high number of intensive care patients and rising death numbers — especially in regions with low vaccination rates.
“Think about it again,” Merkel said to those who still hadn't got the jab. “We just need to grab it, grab it fast.”
"I am asking you: Join us, and try to convince relatives and friends as well,” she added.
The chancellor also called on those who are vaccinated already to get a booster shot against COVID-19.
The booster vaccinations are "a real chance to break the severe fall and winter wave of the pandemic,” Merkel said.
Germany has struggled to bring new momentum to its vaccination campaign lately, with a bit over two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated. It has balked so far at ordering vaccine mandates for any professional group.
Children under the age of 12, who cannot yet get vaccinated in Germany, are among the worst hit group.
The head of the German Teachers' Association warned Saturday that local health offices were struggling to keep control amid the many outbreaks in schools across the country.
“The reality is that we are already on the verge of losing control in some hotspot areas,” Heinz-Peter Meidinger told weekly paper Welt am Sonntag. “We no longer know how to contain infection outbreaks in schools."
Also on Saturday, the government started offering free rapid COVID-19 tests again. They were scrapped a month ago in an effort to persuade more people to get vaccinated.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic