Dec. 3, 2021 -- Facing a new surge in COVID-19 cases and the arrival of the Omicron variant, German leaders on Thursday put into place new restrictions on unvaccinated people.

People who are not vaccinated are barred from all but a few essential businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, announced at a news conference.

Only vaccinated people will be allowed in shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and museums, reported Deutsche Welle (DW), a major German news outlet. Masks will be required in schools and attendance at outdoor sporting events will be capped at 15,000 people, with indoor event attendance capped at 5,000.

Other restrictions could be imposed, depending on a region’s hospitalization rate.

Merkel and Scholz said that the national legislature will vote in 2022 on whether to make COVID vaccinations mandatory for Germans.

"The situation is very serious," Merkel said. "The number of infections has stabilized, but on a far too high a level."

About 69% of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated – one of the lowest rates in western Europe, DW said.

The number of COVID-related deaths is lower than last winter, but the current number of infections is higher. About 74,000 new cases were reported Thursday.

However, there are signs the surge is flattening, with the daily seven-day rate dropping for the third straight day to 439.2 per 100,000 residents, DW said.

Scholz will become chancellor this week. Merkel has led the nation since 2005.

Neighboring Austria approved similar restrictions last month.