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COVID-19

Germany passes Covid-19 vaccine requirement for health workers

Germany on Friday passed legislation requiring healthcare workers to get inoculated against Covid-19, a first step toward possible mandatory jabs for all adults.

A doctor at a vaccination clinic
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of vaccine at a vaccination centre in Maiz, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

A large majority of Bundestag MPs voted for the measure requiring staff at hospitals, doctors’ offices and care homes to be fully vaccinated.

The Bundesrat or upper house passed the bill later Friday following similar moves by France, Italy, Britain and Greece.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who took office this week with the new government under Olaf Scholz, asked deputies from across the political spectrum to support the measure to protect vulnerable groups.

“The pandemic is a mission for us all – this isn’t a moment for party politics,” he told the chamber before the vote.

He said he hoped Germany could break a vicious fourth wave of the outbreak by the end of the month so that people could visit their families over the holidays.

“That’s what we’re fighting for,” he said, stressing the need to slow the spread of the Delta virus variant and stop the Omicron strain from gaining ground.

Under the new plans, people who work in clinics, surgeries and care homes will have to present proof of full vaccination – or a doctor’s note explaining why they can’t get vaccinated – by March 15th next year.

From March 16th, anyone wanting to work in medicine or care in Germany will need to provide proof of vaccination before starting their jobs.

Speaking to Spiegel on Friday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said people who disobeyed the law would be punished with fines rather than prison sentences.

“Nobody will have to go to prison,” he told reporters, adding that the fines would be set high enough to be “effective”.

He also spoke out in favour of extending the vaccine mandate to include teachers and people who work in nurseries. 

READ ALSO: German health workers must be fully vaccinated by March 15th 2022

Scholz, who took power on Wednesday, has come out strongly in favour of mandatory vaccinations after the voluntary campaign fell short with just under 70 percent of the population fully inoculated. Around 21 percent have received a booster shot.

Expanding the mandate to the general public would see the country follow the example of neighbouring Austria, which is requiring vaccinations from February.

Majority supports mandate

Angela Merkel’s previous government had always ruled out mandatory vaccination, but calls for action have grown louder in Germany as infection rates hit record highs and hospitals buckle under the strain.

Around 89 percent of German care home staff and 90 percent of medical workers are fully vaccinated, according to an official estimate from October, but with wide variation among regions.

“Mandatory vaccination is a really difficult issue,” Markus Heim, a senior doctor in the intensive care unit at Munich’s Rechts der Isar hospital, told AFP.

“Everyone who works in the medical sector wants more people to be inoculated and if that can be achieved by requiring it then a lot of people working here would support it.”

Mandatory jabs are now backed by politicians from across the spectrum and Scholz aims to have a policy in force by February or March to head off a possible fifth wave of infections.

A clear majority of Germans also supports the move, with 68 percent telling public broadcaster ZDF in a poll published Friday that they support a general requirement.

The country recorded 61,288 new infections on Friday and 484 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency. Nearly 105,000 people have died with coronavirus.

Beyond the new vaccine mandate, the amendments to the Infection Protection Act are intended to equip states with the powers they need to fight the current Covid wave. 

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These include new clauses that will allow states to close restaurants, bars and clubs and ban large gatherings and events when Covid incidences are particularly high.

“We’re providing the means to break the Delta wave regionally and nationally, and we’re doing all we can to prevent a powerful Omicron variant,” Lauterbach told parliamentarians ahead of the vote. 

To hit government vaccine targets, the government will also permit vets, dentists and pharmacists to administer Covid jabs, as long as they recieve medical training beforehand.

In addition, people on ‘Kurzarbeit’ will in future recieve more generous payouts under government plans to top up the wages of employees who have had their working hours reduced during the pandemic. 

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COVID-19 RULES

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

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