Germany is sliding into a new "critical" health situation with coronavirus cases soaring to new records, its health minister warned Friday, as he pleaded with vaccine holdouts to get jabbed.
"I often read that the Omicron variant is less virulent. That's only partially true," said Karl Lauterbach at a press conference, stressing that 249 people died from the disease on Thursday alone.
"Germany is in a critical situation," he said, warning that intensive care services could get overwhelmed and cases of so-called long Covid could grow.
Lauterbach said the public and political mood was deceptive -- that "we have mastered the pandemic."
But "we cannot be satisfied with a situation where 200 to 250 people are dying a day," a toll that could worsen in the coming weeks, he argued.
Germany is planning to further ease Covid curbs from March 20, including ditching the requirement for employees to work from home whenever possible.
But it reported on Friday more than a quarter of a million new infections.
Lothar Wieler, who heads the disease control agency Robert Koch Institute, said the situation was worsening because of the more transmissible sub-variant BA.2, which now comprises more than a third of new cases in Germany.
"Without mandatory vaccinations, we will not be able to overcome the pandemic in the autumn," Lauterbach warned.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called for vaccinations to be made mandatory, but plans to pass the bill in parliament have been delayed.
The initiative however remains controversial with even some members of the parties making up his three-way coalition opposed.
Austria, which had led the way on obligatory jabs, has also this week suspended the rule.
Around three in four people in Germany are fully vaccinated, and 57 percent have received a third dose.
But 19.6 million people -- including four million aged four years and younger -- remain unvaccinated.