Germany announced on Thursday a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated, as its leader’s backed plans for mandatory vaccinations in the coming months. ​

Unvaccinated people will be banned from accessing all but the most essential business, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, to curb the spread of coronavirus, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, announced Thursday, following crisis talks with regional leaders. Those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are not covered by the ban.

The pair also backed proposals for mandatory vaccinations, which if voted through the parliament could take starting in February, at the earliest.

Under the tightened restrictions, unvaccinated people can only meet two people from another household. Bars and nightclubs must shut down in areas with an incidence rate above 350 cases per 100,000 people over one week. And the country would limit the number of people at large events like soccer matches.

The announcement comes as Germany battles a surge in cases that has pushed Europe back to the epicenter of the pandemic, heightening fears over the newly discovered Omicron variant.

The press briefing is also Merkel’s last before she leaves office, a grim note to end her 16 years as German Chancellor.”We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to thosealready taken,” Merkel told reporters at Thursday’s new conference. “The fourth wave must be broken and this had not yet been achieved,” she added.

A nationwide vaccination mandated could come into effect from February 2022, after it is debated in parliament and following guidance from Germany’s Ethics Council, Merkel said.

She added that vaccinated people will lose their vaccination status nine month after getting their last shot, apparently in an effort to encourage booster vaccinations.

If approved, Germany’s vaccine mandate would follow in the footsteps of neighboring Austria, which also plans to make vaccinations for eligible adults compulsory starting in February.

Germany, much like Austria, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, with 68.4% and 65.6% of their populations fully vaccinated respectively, according to the European Centre for Disease and Control (ECDC). 

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