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People visit the opening of a big Christmas market at the Westfield Centro shopping mall in Oberhausen, Germany, on Nov. 12, 2021.Martin Meissner/The Associated Press

At the Christmas market on Hamburg’s main square this year, only revellers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently recovered will be able to indulge in steaming hot mulled wine and candied almonds or gingerbread under festive fairy lights.

The unvaccinated will still be able to peruse the bottle-green stalls selling handicrafts, listen to carols, ride on the merry-go-round or admire the nativity scenes.

But the gastronomic section will be off-limits behind a fence, with security guards checking for proof of vaccination or recovery at the entrance, organizer Heide Mombaecher told Reuters, as vendors set up stands ahead of next week’s opening.

Such segregation is the latest example of new rules introduced in Germany that aim to contain a fourth coronavirus wave without imposing a blanket lockdown. Some companies are also creating separate areas in canteens for the vaccinated.

The rules also aim to encourage the unvaccinated to get a shot, given Germany has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe at 67 per cent and is reporting record high infections.

“There have to be access restrictions,” said Marion Begas as she set up her pottery stand at the Hamburg market, which will have 40 per cent fewer stalls this year to ensure greater social distancing. “It is a way to protect everyone.”

Germany’s famous Christmas markets, suspended last year due to the pandemic, must now comply with strict safety rules that vary from state to state and are constantly changing.

As infections increase and intensive wards in hospitals fill up, there are growing doubts over whether Christmas markets should be held at all this year.

“I find it completely perverse,” said Hamburg resident Bencke Brorhilker.

Munich’s Christkindlmarkt became on Tuesday the biggest market yet to be ditched. The fourth wave is hitting southern and eastern Germany – with the lowest vaccination rates – particularly hard.

“The dramatic situation in our clinics and the exponentially rising infection numbers leave me no choice,” Mayor Dieter Reiter told Bavarian radio.

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