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COVID-19 VACCINES

Germany’s conservatives call for suspension of health worker vaccine mandate

Germany's planned vaccine mandate for health and care workers is facing further headwinds as opposition politicians call for an indefinite postponement of the plans.

Covid vaccination
A medical student carries out a Covid vaccination in Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

The government is facing a growing backlash against a planned vaccine mandate for hospital and nursing home staff.

The law is scheduled to come into force on March 15th but the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU are publicly calling for a suspension. 

“The federal government must realise that this institutional vaccination obligation is hardly feasible at the moment,” CDU/CSU health spokesman Tino Sorge told Bild on Tuesday.

“The suspension should apply uniformly throughout Germany until central legal and practical questions are answered.” 

Among other things, he said, the government must clarify the question of how to deal with staff who are considered indispensable by institutions.

“It doesn’t look like the traffic light coalition will succeed in doing that in time” ahead of the mid-March deadline, he added.

On Monday evening, CDU leader Friedrich Merz called for the introduction of the professional vaccine mandate to be postponed amid fears of losing valuable staff in the care and health sectors. 

Merz accused the federal government of leaving institutions and their employees to deal with the consequences of the vaccine mandate alone. 

When the law was first introduced, he said, the CDU had agreed to support the move, but only on the assumption that any problems would be ironed out beforehand. 

Earlier in the day, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder (CSU) had announced that the measure would not be implemented in the southern state until further notice. 

Citing issues with staffing in nursing homes, Söder said Bavarian authorities would act “generously” with health and care employees, “which amounts to a de facto suspension of enforcement”.

READ ALSO: Bavaria to postpone vaccine mandate for health and care workers

The announcement prompted sharp criticism from Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and other government ministers. 

“Basically, it’s just a PR ploy to get in the media,” FDP health politician Andrew Ullmann told the Augsburger Allgemeine. “If there was a serious interest in implementation issues, he could have worked on it with the federal government and the states.”

The president of the social care association VdK, Verena Bentele, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that Söder’s claim that he was protecting nursing home patients was absurd.

“There is a law that was passed to protect these people,” Bentele said. “If (the vaccine mandate) is not implemented now because of a lack of oversight, this puts people’s lives at risk.”

The law, which was already passed by the Bundestag and Bundesrat in December, stipulates that employees in nursing homes and clinics must present proof of being vaccinated or recovered – or a medical exemption – by March 15th.

Employers must inform the health authorities if this is not done, and failure to comply can lead that employee being dismissed.

However, in recent weeks the Health Ministry has hinted that the authorities may take a while to review each individual case – during which time unvaccinated employees can continue to work. 

Lauterbach has rejected calls for a postponement and emphasised that the law will still apply at the intended date.

READ ALSO: German authorities signal reprieve for unvaccinated health workers

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POLITICS

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

Germany will reinstate its so-called debt brake in 2023 after suspending it for three years to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sources in the finance ministry said Wednesday.

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The government will borrow 17.2 billion euros ($18.1 million) next year, adhering to the rule enshrined in the constitution that normally limits

Germany’s public deficit to 0.35 percent of overall annual economic output, despite new spending as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the sources said.

The new borrowing set out in a draft budget to be presented to the cabinet on Friday is almost 10 billion euros higher than a previous figure for 2023 announced in April.

However, “despite a considerable increase in costs, the debt brake will be respected,” one of the sources said.

Although Germany is traditionally a frugal nation, the government broke its own debt rules at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and unleashed vast financial aid to steer the economy through the crisis.

READ ALSO: Debt-averse Germany to take on new borrowings to soften pandemic blow

The government has this year unveiled a multi-billion-euro support package to help companies in Europe’s biggest economy weather the fallout from the Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia.

Berlin has also spent billions to diversify its energy supply to reduce its dependence on Russia, as well as investing heavily in plans to tackle climate change and push digital technology.

But despite the additional spending, Finance Minister Christian Lindner has maintained the aim to reinstate the debt brake in 2023.

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