Merkel airs support for compulsory Covid jabs ahead of vote

Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her support for mandatory Covid jabs as federal and state leaders agree to put the move to a vote in parliament.

Merkel and state leaders
Angela Merkel leaves a press conference alongside Olaf Scholz (SPD) and the state leaders. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP-Pool | John Macdougall

It comes as state and federal leaders unite on a series of fresh measures to tame the Covid fourth wave over winter.

These include blanket ‘2G’ in culture, gastronomy and non-essential shops, new provisions to allow for regional lockdowns and strict contact restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Ministers have also agreed to hold a vote on whether Germany should bring in a vaccine mandate early next year.

READ ALSO: Germany to impose sweeping new Covid curbs on the unvaccinated

This would ensure that every person eligible to get a jab would be legally obliged to get their initial doses and regular boosters. 

When asked whether she was in favour of such a move, Merkel said she had hoped that more people would get their shots willingly, but “at this point” in the pandemic, she supported it. 

“Covid vaccination had been advertised on all channels, but there are still gaps in coverage, and on a regional level the health system is overloaded,” she said. Pointing to the particularly aggressive Delta variant, she explained that it hadn’t been possible to achieve herd immunity with such a low vaccination rate.

“Given the situation, it’s necessary to make vaccination compulsory,” she added.

As of Thursday, 68.7 percent of the population was fully jabbed in Germany. Vaccination among Germans and their German-speaking neighbours has tended to lag behind other countries in western Europe. 

READ ALSO: Why is German-speaking Europe lagging on Covid vaccines?

Mandatory jabs ‘by February 2022’

Following the meeting of the state and federal government leaders on Thursday, ministers will ask the Ethics Council for a recommendation on the subject by the end of the year.

Parliament will then hold a vote on the matter with a view to introducing the news measure in February 2022. 

According to incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), due to the sensitive nature of the issue, MPs will be allowed to vote with their conscience, rather than following party lines, when mandatory jabs are put to a vote. 

Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz
Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz leave a press conference following a meeting of state and federal leaders on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP-Pool | John Macdougall

Speaking at the press conference on Thursday, the outgoing Chancellor said that if she were still in the Bundestag, she would vote in favour of the plans.

“I would cast my vote in favour of compulsory vaccination at this point,” she said.

Merkel is due to hand over to her successor Scholz on December 8th.

She has stayed on in a caretaker capacity since the federal elections on September 26th, 2021, but no longer sits in the Bundestag as an MP. 

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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