BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors were charting the country’s way forward Monday in the coronavirus pandemic, and are expected to prioritize the use of PCR tests for those most at risk as the highly contagious omicron variant fuels a steep rise in infections.

Germany has hit a series of daily infection records over the past two weeks as omicron has spread. On Monday, the national disease control center said 840.3 new cases per 100,000 residents have been recorded over the past week and 63,393 cases in the last day. The health minister has said he expects the numbers to peak in mid-February.

On Jan. 7, Scholz and the governors agreed to toughen requirements for entering restaurants and bars and decided to shorten quarantine and self-isolation periods.

Scholz told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung ahead of Monday’s meeting that “we don’t need a change of course.” He added “it is, in any case, certainly not appropriate to loosen the rules broadly in the middle of the omicron wave.”

Germany’s leaders are expected to agree to limit the use of PCR tests as the fast increase in cases stretches capacity. Priority is expected to be given to health care employees, older people and others particularly at risk.

Monday’s meeting is not expected to discuss in depth the question of a possible universal vaccination mandate, which Scholz supports but has left to parliament to come up with proposals for. German lawmakers are expected to hold a first debate on that Wednesday.

Although infections are rising fast, that hasn’t so far been accompanied by a big increase in hospital admissions. But officials worry that Germany has a high number of unvaccinated older people in comparison with some other European countries.

Berlin’s top official for education, Astrid-Sabine Busse, announced Monday that students would no longer be obligated to attend school until the end of the month, but that schools would be kept open for those students who still wanted to go there.

The decision came after the city’s public health officers said they would no longer conduct contact tracing nor send first contacts of infected children into quarantine.

Infection numbers in the German capital have soared during recent weeks, and many schools, especially elementary schools have not been able to offer regular classes with so many teachers and students either infected or in quarantine.

Berlin’s Mitte district recorded the highest incidence of new cases in the country: 2,842 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week.


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