The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German Center for Disease Control and Control, reported 65,371 new cases in the past 24 hours – an increase of 12,545 new infections from the previous 24 hour period.
But those numbers are likely underreported, and the true scale of infections could be “two or three times as much,” RKI chief Lothar Wieler said Wednesday evening in an online discussion with the Prime Minister of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer.
The country reported 264 Covid-19-related deaths from Wednesday to Thursday, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to 98,000 people in Germany, according to RKI data.
The seven-day incidence rate in Germany also reached record highs of 336.9 cases per 100,000 people, up from 249.1 cases reported a week ago, RKI reported.
Germany has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe, with just over 67% of the population fully vaccinated. About 33% have no protection against the virus, according to the RKI.
This is one of the reasons infections have reached record highs, experts say.
“The current pandemic situation in Germany is dramatic, I cannot say it otherwise,” outgoing Chancellor Merkel told mayors across Germany on Wednesday.
“It would be a disaster to act only when the intensive care units are full, because then it would be too late,” she added.
“Lock for the unvaccinated”
The situation means that Germany is set to become the next country to impose stricter rules on those who have not been fully vaccinated. Three parties making up the country’s future coalition government will debate a bill on Thursday that would see stricter rules come into force.
The proposed measures would require Germans to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test to board a bus or board a train, in an extension of the country’s “3G” system that requires either entering certain places and settings. Free Covid-19 tests would be reintroduced along with permission to work from home where possible.
Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday that the current rules amounted to a “lockdown for the unvaccinated.”
Merkel will also discuss the implementation of stricter Covid-19 restrictions with the German leaders of the 16 federal states.
Berlin has already imposed restrictions on unvaccinated people, where, as of Monday, proof of full vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 within the past 6 months is required for entry to bars, restaurants, cinemas and other places of entertainment.
But the current wave of infections mainly affects the southern and eastern regions of the country, where vaccination is weaker.
If the coalition’s proposed measures are accepted, they would bring Germany closer to its southern neighbor Austria, where a lockdown specifically aimed at unvaccinated people went into effect on Monday. It prohibits unvaccinated people – more than a third of the country’s population – from leaving their homes, except for a few specific reasons.
Austria, where the vaccination rate is lower than that of Germany, is suffering an intense wave of infections. In contrast, Spain and Portugal avoided the shock of the winter wave after posting the highest vaccination rates in Europe.
France, which has vaccinated nearly 75% of its total population, is more resistant than its neighbors to the new peak of infection.
Nearly five million French people have received their Covid booster vaccine, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Thursday in an interview with French media LCI.
“It’s a lot. It puts us above most of our European neighbors, but it’s still too little,” Attal said. “We must continue.”
CNN’s Rob Picheta, Martin Goillandeau, Xiaofei Xu, and Meredith Ruleman contributed to this article.