Germany reported a new daily record of 164,000 COVID-19 infections on Wednesday as the lower house of parliament prepared to debate proposals to either require or robustly encourage residents to be vaccinated.
Around 75% of the population have received at least one dose of a vaccine – less than in western European peers such as France, Italy or Spain, where the equivalent figures are 80%, 83% and 86% – and the vaccination campaign is stuttering.
The proposals being debated include requiring all adult residents to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or only those above 50, or merely requiring all those who have not been vaccinated to receive counselling.
Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Germany was more successful than many of its peers in limiting infections through case tracking, strict lockdowns and quarantines.
But public discontent has been growing, with regular protests by those opposed to ongoing restrictions that exclude the unvaccinated from many indoor activities.
The highly contagious Omicron variant has sent cases soaring in recent weeks. The 166 deaths recorded on Wednesday took Germany’s cumulative COVID-19 toll to 117,126.
German Hospital Federation chairman Gerald Gass said the number of COVID-19 patients in normal hospital wards had increased significantly. In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, the number rose by 37% in a week.
“This development will affect all federal states shortly,” Gass told Reuters, adding that he was in favour of compulsory vaccination while the end of the pandemic was not in sight.
Protests were expected in front of the Reichstag parliament building before and during the debate, with around 1,600 police officers due to be deployed to the area, the broadcaster RBB reported, citing Berlin police.
Opponents of compulsory vaccination say it violates the second article of the constitution, which guarantees citizens control over their own bodies.
In an Allensbach survey published on Wednesday by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, the share of those who could imagine themselves taking part in protests against anti-coronavirus measures had doubled to 12% in the space of a year.