Germany’s health minister said Wednesday that the country’s coronavirus infection rate is likely two to three times higher than statistics currently show, and urged his compatriots to be cautious during New Year’s celebrations.

Statistics in recent days have continued to show Germany’s infection rate drifting downward from a spike caused by the delta variant. But officials have cautioned repeatedly that, as in previous holiday periods, the numbers will be incomplete over Christmas and the new year because fewer tests are being performed and there are delays in reporting tests that are carried out.

At the same time, neighboring France is reporting record numbers fueled by the new omicron variant.

On Wednesday, Germany’s official data showed 40,043 reported new cases over the past 24 hours and an infection rate, or incidence, of 205.5 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that “the underreporting is probably of the order that the actual incidence is currently two or three times as high as the incidence we are measuring.”

“We are also seeing a significant increase in omicron cases that causes us concern,” he added.

The minister said there is a “shortfall” in staff that “becomes particularly noticeable” over holiday periods at local health offices, a key part of Germany’s reporting chain. He said that improving that situation will be a “central task” for him in the coming year.

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Lauterbach advised Germans to spend the New Year’s period “very cautiously” and celebrate only in very small groups. Restrictionsthat took effect over recent days included limiting private gatherings to 10 people. Large-scale New Year’s celebrations have been canceled and the sale of fireworks banned.

He said he’s sure that there will be “solid and sufficient” data on infections by the time Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s 16 state governors confer on the way forward in the pandemic on Jan. 7.

Lauterbach noted that Germany’s vaccination campaign has kicked back into gear after a brief Christmas lull and appealed to people who haven’t yet got a booster to book an appointment. So far, 71% of the population has received a full first vaccination course and 37.3% has received a booster.

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