Germany’s Merkel urges tougher measures to battle 4th wave of COVID

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BERLIN, Nov 22 (Reuters) –

Germany’s acting Chancellor Angela Merkel told leaders of her conservative party that measures being taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Europe’s biggest economy were insufficient and that stronger action needed to be taken.

“We are in a highly dramatic situation. What is in place now is not sufficient,” she told CDU leaders in a meeting, according to two participants.

Case numbers in Germany have been soaring, especially among the elderly whose first two shots of COVID-19 vaccine were at the start of the year, and among children that are not eligible for inoculation.

Some 79% of adults in Germany have had two shots of COVID-19 vaccine, but only 7.5% have received booster shots so far, as the total number of coronavirus deaths in Germany approaches 100,000.

Germany has already decided to limit large parts of public life in areas where hospitals are becoming full of COVID-19 patients to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness.

But Merkel said neither those measures nor a higher uptake of vaccinations would be enough to halt the rapid rise of infections in the short run. She called on Germany’s 16 federal states to decide tough measures by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Germany will promote Moderna for Germans seeking booster shots as high demand for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine risks depleting stocks and derailing efforts to tame a fourth wave of the pandemic, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday.

Spahn warned during a news conference that some 16 million Moderna doses could expire in the first quarter of next year if unused, adding that some experts see Moderna as the “Rolls-Royce” of vaccines with BioNTech the “Mercedes”.

“Unfortunately the impression is we will insist on Moderna only to avoid the expiry of those vaccines in the first quarter of 2022,” said Spahn.

“This is an important aspect but it is not the decisive one. What’s crucial is that our BioNTech stock is emptying so fast that coming next week we won’t be able to deliver more than 2-3 million doses a week.”

Germany is struggling to rein in a fourth wave driven mainly by the more infectious Delta variant that has pushed infection rates to record highs across Europe.

The Robert Koch Institute reported on Monday that the 7-day infection count rose to 386.5 per 100,000 citizens, or 30,643 in total over 24 hours, 7,000 more than a week ago. More than 60 people died of the virus in the past 24 hours.

Germany’s 16 states, whose remit includes public health, are trying to break the wave by rolling out booster shots, appealing to the unvaccinated to take the shot, and imposing a patch-work of restrictions.

The eastern state of Saxony and the southern state of Bavaria have cancelled Christmas markets which were set to open this week. Across Germany, most businesses remain open to those who are either vaccinated or recovered as authorities try to break resistance to getting a shot in a country where the vaccination rate stands at 68%, compared to almost 80% in Spain.

Spahn said that booster shots would take at least two weeks to start flattening the curve of infections and said only contact restrictions could help in the shorter term.

Spahn sought to allay concerns of vaccine shortages as Germany has a combined 50 million doses from BioNTech and Moderna available until the end of the year, enough for first and second shots as well as boosters.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Weiss in Frankfurt; Editing by Nick Macfie)

PHOTO – A sign informs visitors about mandatory masks at a supermarket in Munich, Germany. EPA-EFE/PHILIPP GUELLAND

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