By Tara John and Nadine Schmidt, Berlin, Nov. 18 (CNN): Germany reported its highest single-day surge of Covid-19 infections as Chancellor Angela Merkel said the "dramatic" situation was the result of the fourth wave "hitting our country with full force."
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's disease and control centre has reported 65,371 new cases within the last 24 hours -- it is an increase of 12,545 new infections compared to the 24 hour period before.
But these figures are likely to be underreported, and the true scale of infections could be "twice or three times as many," RKI chief Lothar Wieler told an online discussion with Saxony's state premier Michael Kretschmer on Wednesday evening.
The country reported 264 Covid-19 related deaths from Wednesday to Thursday, pushing the total number of deaths since the pandemic began to 98,000 people in Germany, according to RKI data.
Germany's seven-day incidence rate also hit record levels of 336.9 cases per 100,000 people, up from 249.1 cases reported a week ago, RKI reported.
Germany has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, with just over 67% of the population fully vaccinated. Around 33% have no protection against the virus, according to the RKI.
This is one of the reasons why infections have soared to record levels, say experts.
''The current pandemic situation in Germany is dramatic, I can't say it any other way," outgoing Chancellor Merkel told mayors from across Germany on Wednesday.
Hospitalizations and deaths remain at a much lower level than in previous peaks, but there is growing concerned about gaps in the country's vaccination coverage as it moves into the winter months.
''It would be a disaster to act only when the intensive care units are full because then it would be too late,'' she added.
'Lockdown for the unvaccinated'
The situation means Germany is on track to become the next country to impose stricter rules on those who haven't been fully inoculated. Three parties making up the country's prospective new coalition government will debate a draft law on Thursday that would see stricter rules come into effect.
The proposed measures would require Germans to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to ride a bus or board a train, in an expansion of the country's "3G" system that requires either to enter certain venues and settings. Free Covid-19 tests would be reintroduced as well the permission to work from home whenever possible.
Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday that the rules in effect amount to a "lockdown for the unvaccinated."
Merkel will also debate the implementation of stricter Covid-19 curbs with Germany's leaders of the 16 federal states.
Berlin has already imposed restrictions on unvaccinated people, whereas of Monday proof of full vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 in the past 6 months is required for entry to bars, restaurants, cinemas and other entertainment venues.
But the current wave of infections is mainly affecting the southern and eastern parts of the nation, where vaccine uptake is lower. Despite the widescale availability of vaccines this winter compared to the last, Europe's Delta-variant fueled the fourth wave has made it the only region last week to see an increase in Covid-19 related deaths, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
If the measures proposed by the coalition are agreed, they would move Germany closer in line with its southern neighbour Austria, where a lockdown specifically targeted at unvaccinated people came into force Monday. It bans unvaccinated people -- more than a third of the country's population -- from leaving their homes except for a few specific reasons.
Austria, where vaccine uptake is lower than Germany, is suffering an intense wave of infections. By contrast, Spain and Portugal have avoided the brunt of the winter wave after posting the highest vaccination rates in Europe.
France, which has almost 75% of its total population vaccinated, is weathering the new infection spike better than its neighbours.
Nearly five million French have received their Covid booster vaccine shot, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said in an interview with French media LCI on Thursday.
"This is a lot. It puts us above most of our European neighbours, but it's still too little," Attal said. "We must continue."