BERLIN (Reuters) - Several leading German politicians called on Sunday for tighter restrictions to contain a surge in coronavirus cases as the infection rate hit a new high and fears about the new Omicron variant rose.
After the detection of two Omicron cases in the southern state of Bavaria on Saturday, an official in the western state of Hesse said a suspected case in a passenger arriving from South Africa had been confirmed.
"The sequencing has confirmed the result - the suspected case which was made public yesterday morning is the Omicron variant," Kai Klose, Hesse's Social Affairs Minister tweeted.
Restrictions on air travel from South Africa took effect on Sunday after it was classified as a virus-variant area.
This means airlines can fly only Germans to Germany from South Africa and even those who are vaccinated must spend 14 days in quarantine.
The new variant has caused alarm in Germany which, like many other European countries, is struggling to contain a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
It registered 44,401 new cases on Sunday, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, and the 7-day incidence hit a record 446.7 per 100,000 residents.
More than 100,000 people have died with the coronavirus in Germany since the start of the pandemic.
The premier of the southern state of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, demanded drastic measures. "Unfortunately, to protect our health system, we must wind down our country more," Soeder told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
An INSA poll in Bild am Sonntag weekly showed that 58% of Germans do not think existing measures are sufficient and 73% expect a national lockdown to be introduced this year.
The fourth wave has hit just as conservative Angela Merkel prepares to hand over the chancellery to a new three-way coalition to be led by the Social Democrats (SPD), making it more difficult for her to insist on new curbs.
It is mainly up to regions to decide what measures to introduce and a meeting of state leaders with the chancellor is due on Dec. 9.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said citizens must limit contacts.
"It is important that we act together. Stick to the rules, reduce contacts further, Do it so that schools and nurseries don't shut again, so that we don't have to completely shut down public life." he told Bild am Sonntag.
He also urged more people to get vaccinated. Only around 68% of the population of around 83 million is fully vaccinated.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Editing by Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)