Top German health officials Friday warned that the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was likely to worsen the fourth wave of infections the nation is facing and was threatening to overwhelm the health care system. 

German Health Minister Jens Spahn and Lothar Wieler, president of the  Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, spoke with reporters in Berlin. 

Spahn said that at the current rate of infection, Germany will almost certainly have more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units in coming weeks, with the number likely to peak around Christmas.

The two health officials spoke a day after federal and state leaders announced tough new restrictions on unvaccinated people, preventing them from entering nonessential stores, restaurants, and sports and cultural venues. It was the same day Germany reported its first case involving the omicron variant. 

Wieler said the nation should be prepared for the possibility omicron could lead to even more cases than the delta variant in a shorter period of time. He said restrictions announced Thursday must also be implemented nationwide to prevent infections from collapsing the health system.

The German parliament is expected to consider a vaccine mandate. If approved, it would take effect in February. 

Spahn noted that the share of unvaccinated residents who are infected and seriously ill is much higher than their share of the overall population.

He said there was good news on the vaccination front: The nation is likely to meet its goal of administering 30 million booster doses before Christmas. He told reporters 10 million doses had already been injected, 10 million had been delivered and 10 million more were to be delivered next week.

Spahn said the important thing now was to vaccinate more people each week until the end of the year. 

The Koch Institute on Friday reported 74,352 new COVID-19 cases and 390 additional deaths. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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