The German political world is facing a debate this week with important consequences, both when it comes to obtaining votes to win the next national elections and to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and which began with statements by the head of the Federal Chancellery, Helger Braun, to the newspaper
Bild am Sonntag
. The minister, a politician fully trusted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Sunday that it might be necessary to impose restrictions on people who refuse to be vaccinated, if COVID-19 infections hit new all-time highs in the coming months, as may be the case in Germany.
Braun noted that unvaccinated people could be prevented from entering places like restaurants, cinemas or stadiums "because the residual risk is too high."
The minister expressed his concern about the possible consequences of a new wave of the pandemic in the labor market.
He assured that sick leave would reach "historical highs" and remarked that the impact on the work processes of companies would be "enormous".
"We are already seeing it in the UK," he added about it.
For this reason, he stated that "vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than non-vaccinated people."
Braun mentioned that, if such policies are approved, they would be constitutional because "the State has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens."
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The vaccination campaign in Germany has slowed down in recent weeks and this has sparked discussions about how to encourage people to get vaccinated. Last week 678,459 first doses were delivered in Germany, the lowest level since the third week of February, when there was a shortage of vaccines in the country. With 15 million unused doses in refrigerators, according to statistics, the daily average number of first doses delivered has been falling for 33 days. The complete guideline has been received by 49% of the population, which is equivalent to 54% of those over 12 years of age ― it is required that 85% of people between 12 and 59 years old and 90% of those over 60 years of age have received the full guideline to achieve herd immunity, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the government agency for disease control.More than 60% of the German population has received at least one dose - in Spain the figure is over 65%.
Braun's concerns have a real foundation. The minister, who is a doctor by profession, fears that the number of new coronavirus cases in Germany will skyrocket to 100,000 a day in about two months. After more than two months of steady decline, cases have increased in Europe's largest economy since the beginning of July, mainly due to the spread of the delta variant. Braun assured the German newspaper that cases were increasing 60% per week. “If the delta variant continued to spread at this rate and we did not counteract it with a very high vaccination rate or behavior change, we would have an incidence of 850 (per 100,000 people) in just nine weeks. This is equivalent to about 100,000 new infections a day, ”he said, adding that this would lead to many people in quarantine and chaos in the economy.
The issue has caused a dangerous division within Merkel's own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The CDU candidate to replace Merkel as Germany's ruler, Armin Laschet, has voiced his opposition to any formal or informal requirement of the vaccine at this time. "I do not believe in compulsory vaccination and it does not seem to me that we should indirectly urge people to get vaccinated," Laschet told the second public television station, ZDF, on Sunday. “In a free country there are rights to freedom, not just for specific groups. If Germany's vaccination rates remain too low at the end of the year, other options could be considered, but not now, ”he insisted.Laschet is also not happy about banning the unvaccinated from going to the movies and restaurants, as Braun suggested. Those who are "tested, recovered or vaccinated," he said, should be exempt from the restrictions.
Laschet's statements were described by some German media almost as a slap in the face to Merkel.
During a recent visit to the Robert Koch Institute, the Chancellor ruled out the obligation of the vaccine "for the moment", but emphasized: "I am not ruling out that it could be spoken differently in a few months."
In her last summer press conference, Merkel made a dramatic appeal to the population to intensify vaccination efforts in the face of rising infection figures.
"The more are vaccinated, the freer we will be again," said the chancellor.
“Only together can we overcome the pandemic.
Therefore, people should also actively promote vaccination in their private environment and at work.
Each vaccine is a small step towards greater protection for all ”.
In favor of possible restrictions
Karl Lauterbach, a well-known and respected Social Democrat health expert, spoke in favor of the possible restrictions. He told the
that soon one of the only remaining options to combat the new variants will be to "limit access to spaces where a lot of people gather" only for those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus. His co-religionist Rolf Mützenich, head of the SPD parliamentary group, pointed out that politicians should give priority to inoculating citizens who wish to do so and not penalizing the unvaccinated. "We are not going to threaten the attitude of individuals towards vaccination," said Mützenich,
Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) spoke out in favor of greater freedom for those vaccinated. "This is not discrimination against the unvaccinated," he explained in an interview with RTL and ntv. He assured that he respects if someone decides not to get vaccinated for personal reasons. "But the unvaccinated person must also realize that we have to protect society as a whole and therefore we can only allow the vaccinated to attend major community events," he added.
Bundestag Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki described Minister Braun's initiative as de facto wanting to introduce mandatory vaccination through the back door. According to Kubicki, there are no fundamental rights of the first and second order, which "depend on good behavior defined as 'right' by the Foreign Ministry." Kubicki suggested that Braun certainly knew he was heading into "unconstitutional ground" with his demand for unequal treatment of the unvaccinated.