BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel labelled Thursday "a very sad day" and backed calls for more restrictions, as her country became the latest to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
The national disease control agency said it recorded 351 deaths in connection with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 100,119. In Europe, Germany is the fifth country to pass that mark, after Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.
"It is of course a very sad day that we have to mourn 100,000 victims of the coronavirus," Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin. "And unfortunately, at the moment, more than 300 deaths are being added to that each day."
The long-time German leader, who is currently in office as caretaker until her successor is sworn in, warned that hundreds more deaths were already looming.
"(The deaths) correlate very clearly with the number of infections that are occurring," she said. "We know how many people on average do not survive this disease."
The Robert Koch Institute, a federal agency that collects data from some 400 regional health offices, said Germany set a record for daily confirmed cases — 75,961 — in the past 24-hour period. Since the start of the outbreak, Germany has had more than 5.57 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
"The situation is so serious because we are still in an exponential growth and because the cases that we see getting sick today are basically the patients who will be in intensive care in 10 or 14 days," Merkel said.
She welcomed an announcement by Germany's government-in-waiting on Wednesday that it will create a new permanent expert group to advise officials on how to tackle the pandemic.
While the number of daily infections is higher than that seen during the last winter surge, there are currently fewer daily deaths per confirmed cases. Experts argue this is because of vaccinations, which reduce the likelihood of serious illness.
Still, hospitals have warned that intensive care beds are running out, with almost 4,000 already occupied by COVID-19 patients. Some hospitals in the country’s south and east have begun transferring patients to other regions.
The German air force has put two specialized medevac planes on stand-by to airlift ICU patients to regions with free beds.
The general manager of the Bavarian hospitals' association, Roland Engehausen, said the number of new cases needs to come down sharply.
"Otherwise we're going to have a dramatic situation between Christmas and New Year's the likes of which we haven't seen yet," he told German news agency dpa.
Saxony, to the northeast, became the first German state to record a weekly number of confirmed cases above 1,000 per 100,000 inhabitants Thursday. It has the lowest vaccination rate — at 57.9% — among Germany's 16 states.
The government has urged people who were vaccinated more than six months ago to get boosters, and those who haven't been inoculated at all to get their first shot. Officials say 68.1% of Germany's 83 million inhabitants are fully vaccinated, far below the minimum level of 75% the government has aimed for.
Center-left leader Olaf Scholz, who is poised to succeed Merkel as chancellor next month, called Wednesday for mandatory vaccinations in nursing homes that care for particularly vulnerable people — and left open the possibility of extending the measure to others.
"Vaccinations are the way out of this pandemic," Scholz said.
His Social Democratic Party's health expert Karl Lauterbach, a trained epidemiologist, cited the case of Bayern Munich soccer star Joshua Kimmich as a cautionary tale for those who believe they can avoid both the virus and the vaccine. Kimmich, who had hesitated to get the shot, tested positive this week. Bayern said Wednesday that Kimmich was "doing well."
"The case shows how difficult it is for unvaccinated people to avoid COVID these days," Lauterbach said on Twitter.
Merkel didn’t address the question of compulsory vaccinations for all, that some senior German officials and the country’s association of intesive care doctors have proposed. But she said there should be "more restrictions on contacts."