BERLIN - Germany needs to increase testing and boost vaccinations to avoid another COVID-19 lockdown, the conservative candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor said on Tuesday, before government talks to curb a rise in new cases.
Less than seven weeks before a federal election, Merkel and leaders of the 16 federal states will try to agree on measures to avoid a new wave of infections, driven by the spread of the Delta variant, and avert unpopular restrictions.
"We want to and will test more to avoid a new lockdown," Armin Laschet told the North Rhine-Westphalia assembly.
Hoping to become chancellor after a Sept. 26 election, Laschet is desperate to avoid new restrictions and said Germany should introduce incentives to encourage more people to get vaccinated and also ramp up compulsory testing.
A draft document prepared for the talks, due to start in the afternoon, proposes that people who are neither vaccinated nor recovered must test negative for COVID-19 to be able to enter indoor restaurants, take part in religious ceremonies and do indoor sport.
The document also showed that the leaders will agree to end free coronavirus tests in October in an effort to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
"I expect that this free offer will be lifted from the middle of October," Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller, a member of the Social Democrats who share power on the federal level with Merkel's conservatives, told ZDF television.
Germany had made the tests free for all in March to make a gradual return to normal life possible after a lockdown to break a third wave of COVID-19. Although around 55% of Germans are fully vaccinated, the pace of jabs has slowed.
Germany has recorded more than 3,000 cases a day in the last week, bringing the total to 3.79 million. Germany's death toll is 91,803. The nationwide seven-day incidence rose on Tuesday to 23.5 per 100,000 people, up from 23.1 on Monday.
(Reporting by Matthias Inverardi, Andreas Rinke Writing by Joseph Nasr and Madeline Chambers Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky) ((Madeline.Chambers@thomsonreuters.com; +4930220133578;))