German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a speech at the Defence Ministry during the Grand Tattoo (Grosser Zapfenstreich), a ceremonial send-off for her in Berlin on December 2, 2021. AFP
Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message two days after federal and state leaders decided on a series of measures meant to break a wave of coronavirus infections.
The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores, restaurants and sports and cultural venues. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.
At least 68.9% of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government's aim of a minimum 75% vaccination rate. The number of unvaccinated residents has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.
Official figures suggest that the infection rate may now be stabilizing, but at too high a level.
The national disease control center on Saturday reported 64,510 new daily cases and a 7-day infection rate of 442.7 new cases per 100,000 residents. Another 378 deaths in 24 hours brought Germany's total in the pandemic to 102,946.
``Every one of them leaves behind families or friends, stunned, speechless and helpless,'' Merkel said in her video message. ``This is so bitter because it is avoidable. With the effective and safe vaccines, we have the key to this in our hands.''
She renewed a plea to Germans to take the virus seriously, adding that the new omicron variant ``appears to be even more contagious than the previous ones.''
``Get vaccinated, no matter whether it's a first vaccination or a booster,'' Merkel said. ``Every vaccination helps.''
Merkel is expected to leave office on Wednesday and be replaced by Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democratic Party, who is currently vice chancellor. Scholz said Saturday that his government's ``most important first task'' is to ``fight the corona pandemic with all the strength that we have.''
``There would be a different situation now if just a few more citizens had also made the decision to get vaccination,'' he said at a convention of the Social Democrats. ``We must again make a whole new effort, set in motion a whole new campaign`` to get more shots in arms, Scholz said.
Senior members of the party denounced a Friday evening protest outside the home of Saxony state's health minister, Petra Koepping, a Social Democrat. About 30 people gathered with torches and placards outside the home in the eastern town of Grimma.
The demonstrators chanted against coronavirus policies before fleeing in cars when police arrived.