German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Friday said the COVID-19 situation in the nation is serious and urged citizens not to act as though the pandemic was over.
Speaking to reporters at a Berlin news conference, Lauterbach described the nation's COVID-19 situation as "critical," with a recent sharp increase in cases driven by the omicron variant of the virus as well as some subvariants.
On Friday, Germany's Robert Koch Institute Infectious Diseases Department reported more than 250,000 new cases had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, along with 249 deaths. That comes one day after the nation hit a record high 262,752 daily cases. The infection rate stood at 1,439 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
Lauterbach said the even more contagious version of the omicron variant known as BA.2 accounted for half of the cases in Germany. The commonly held belief that the omicron variant is milder is "only true to a limited extent," he said.
Meanwhile, he also blamed an easing of COVID-related restrictions around the country. Germany has been easing coronavirus restrictions and is due to lift most of them on March 20. He said the situation is far worse than the mood of the country.
"The mood among the population, including in parts of the political landscape, is such that we have already overcome the pandemic ... in the sense that it is behind us. This is simply based on a misjudgment."
He said people cannot be "satisfied with a situation where 200 to 250 people die every day, and the prospect is that in a few weeks more people will die."
The government has drawn up new rules that would allow state governments to require measures such as mask wearing, testing in some situations and additional measures in virus "hot spots" after that.
Masks would remain mandatory on long-distance trains and flights.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.