A debate has flared in Germany over whether people who have not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus should face restrictions.
The wrangling comes as the highly transmissible Delta variant is pushing case numbers up and Germany’s vaccination campaign shows signs of flagging.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in an interview published on Sunday that if Germany is hit by a harsh fourth wave in the coming months, people who have yet to be vaccinated might find themselves blocked from bars and other social establishments.
“If we have a high rate of infection despite our testing procedures then the unvaccinated will have to reduce their contacts,” Braun told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“That can mean that certain options like restaurants, cinemas and visits to stadiums, even for unvaccinated people who have been tested, would no longer be possible, because the risk to everyone else is too high.”
But Armin Laschet, the German centre-right’s candidate to replace Merkel in September’s national elections, pushed back.
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Laschet, like Merkel and Braun, is a member of the Christian Democrats (CDU). In response to Braun, Laschet spoke out against mandatory vaccination and restrictions for unvaccinated people.
“I do not believe in compulsory vaccination and I do not believe in indirectly putting pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told broadcaster ZDF. The priority now must be to convince as many citizens as possible to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Laschet said.
But he stressed that the principle that one must either be vaccinated, tested or recovered in order to do certain things is correct.
Braun also received criticism from outside his party, with the centre-left Social Democrats’ parliamentary group leader, Rolf Muetzenich, telling Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that “we will not change the vaccination stance of individuals with threats.”
Braun, who in addition to being one of Merkel’s closest advisors is also a medical doctor, said that, so long as the vaccines currently in use remain effective against the Delta variant of the coronavirus, a full lockdown should be unnecessary.
He also used the interview to urge German residents to get vaccinated, arguing that vaccines are about 90-per-cent effective in stopping serious illness “and the vaccinated are definitely going to have more freedoms than the unvaccinated.”
About 60 per cent of Germany’s population has received at least one vaccine jab, but two are required to be considered fully vaccinated for most available vaccines. Just less than 50 per cent are considered fully vaccinated.
Despite those numbers, the case count is creeping back up after hitting a recent low earlier this month. The seven-day incidence rate has been rising for more than two weeks and now stands at 13.8 cases per 100,000 residents.
Health offices reported 1,387 new infections in the past 24 hours. A week ago, the figure had been 1,292 infections.
Braun said he has no doubts that setting up limits for the unvaccinated would be legal, arguing that “the state has the obligation to protect the health of its citizens.
“That includes a health system that, this coming winter, no longer has to delay cancer and joint surgeries in order to treat coronavirus patients. And that includes the protection of those who are unvaccinated.”
Other countries like France and Greece have moved to make vaccines seem desirable by introducing the kinds of limits Braun discussed. The moves have prompted protests.
Braun also noted that, if case counts climb rapidly again, as they did in the last two waves, then it will be hard to keep the virus out of schools, which could make it hard to keep them open. That will mean people with contact to children need to get vaccinated and people will need to continue to wear masks on public transportation and in other places where large groups congregate, like schools.
Municipal officials have also warned that another lockdown would be a tough blow for Germany’s economy, which already reeled during the last three since March 2020.