Mayor of German city of Halle suspended for skipping vaccine queue

A German mayor was suspended by his own city council after it emerged he had received a coronavirus vaccination in January, despite not being in a priority group.

Mayor of German city of Halle suspended for skipping vaccine queue
Bernd Wiegand in February during a city council meeting. Photo: DPA/Hendrik Schmidt

An overwhelming majority of 34 councillors voted late Wednesday to temporarily suspend Bernd Wiegand, mayor of the central city of Halle.

Wiegand, 64, had previously admitted to receiving the vaccine in January, at a time when it was still only available to older citizens.

READ ALSO: When will I be in line for a Covid-19 vaccination in Germany?

Other city employees and several councillors also reportedly received a jab before their turn.

The mayor denied that he had acted illegally or immorally, however, saying he had been offered the jab in order to avoid excess doses going to waste.

“It’s easy to criticise my decision in hindsight… but it was not unlawful in any way,” he said in a statement in March, suggesting that the scandal was being exploited to “remove a nonpartisan mayor from office”.

Yet his explanations have also varied over time, with Wiegand at one point erroneously claiming that he had been selected at random to receive the excess dose.

The mayor must now await the results of a disciplinary procedure and an investigation by local prosecutors, though he could yet appeal his suspension at an administrative court.

After raiding Wiegand’s offices in February, prosecutors said he was suspected of “misappropriating some of the vaccine doses available to the city since December 2020”, but stressed the presumption of innocence.

Germany’s vaccination rollout has been slower than expected amid supply issues across the EU, with 13 percent of the population currently having received at least one dose.

Wiegand is also not the only German politician embroiled in a pandemic-related scandal.

Several MPs from Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance have been forced to step down in recent weeks over allegations of corruption in the procurement of protective masks.

The graft scandal has hit Merkel’s party in the polls, with the conservatives slumping to record lows of just over 25 percent six months before September’s general election.

READ ALSO: Suspect arrested in Germany’s ‘face mask scandal’

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now