Germany has doubled its pace of Covid-19 vaccinations after a sluggish start, as it battles a third wave of the virus that threatens to overwhelm medical facilities.

The country administered about 720,000 doses on Thursday, a fourth straight daily record, thanks to a surge in vaccinations in doctors’ offices. That pace should continue for most of April as a network of some 35,000 general practitioners receive 1 million doses more in each of the next two weeks — and even more after that.

“We’re on a good path with vaccinations,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday at a news conference in Berlin.

Germany’s inoculation push comes as authorities try to check a rise in infections that’s putting increasing pressure on intensive-care units. Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for tighter restrictions, but has faced opposition from some of the 16 regional leaders, who disagree about the measures needed to prevent more infections and deaths.

The two sides appeared to put some of their differences behind them on Friday, with Merkel’s government announcing a deal with state premiers and ruling coalition lawmakers to update Germany’s infection protection law.The latest Covid updatesMake sense of the headlines and the outbreak’s global response with the Coronavirus Daily.

The changes would set out nationwide rules on which curbs must be imposed on a local basis if the seven-day incidence rate rises above 100 per 100,000 people, Merkel’s spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said at a news conference in Berlin. A meeting planned for Monday to discuss the next steps in pandemic strategy has been canceled and the law will be signed off by Merkel’s cabinet on Tuesday, Demmer said.

“It makes sense that rules are set for the whole country,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters. “Then you don’t have to meet every two weeks for more talks, as it’s set out in law thanks to a joint effort by the federal and regional governments.”

Shot Surge

Germany’s Covid-19 vaccinations have jumped after a slow start

Source: Robert Koch Institute, German Health Ministry

With only about 15% of Germany’s 83 million people having already received a Covid shot, stricter curbs are necessary to prevent an overload of hospitals, Merkel has argued.

Some regions have failed to implement restrictions agreed with her government, prompting her to threaten to seize central control of pandemic policy.

Germany’s Covid-19 incidence rate started climbing again around the middle of February, though its steady rise appeared to be checked over the Easter vacation.

Spahn, who has also called for tighter lockdown restrictions, said Friday that Germany will be able to comprehensively vaccinate the population by mid summer. Allowing the country’s health system to get overloaded so close to that achievement is unreasonable, he said.

“Do we want to test the limits? Do we want to test what the country can handle, in an emergency situation, in the intensive care units? What kind of thoughts are those?” Spahn said.

While some are calling for restrictions to be eased as the inoculation program ramps up and the weather warms — and people grow increasingly weary of measures that have been in place for about half a year — Spahn urged people to hang on for a while longer.

“It’s about some weeks, months with one another, to keep avoiding an overload of the health system that we’ve successfully avoided for 12 months,” he said. “And yes, I’m suffering exactly like everyone else. I want to get out, too. I want the daily routine, too. And I want to celebrate, and I want meals out and shopping.”

Stubborn Outbreak

The head of the association that represents the intensive-care sector said earlier Friday that the situation in Germany’s hospitals is “really dramatic” and ICU staff are “deeply worried.”

Gernot Marx, the president of the DIVI association, told ZDF that there will be more than 5,000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care by the end of this month.

“These are really very high numbers and what is really worrying is how few beds there are free,” Marx said. Many staff have indicated they plan to leave the profession after the pandemic due to the pressure of the job, he added.

“We really need a hard lockdown,” Marx said. “It makes absolutely no sense to think about opening, rather we must bring the infection rate down.”

— With assistance by Chris Reiter, and Naomi Kresge(Updates with Scholz comments in seventh paragraph)