Germany: fierce dispute over further strategy to fight coronavirus pandemic and mandatory vaccination

With the number of new coronavirus infections still on the rise, a dispute over the further strategy to fight the pandemic is intensifying in Germany. During a meeting with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) on Thursday, prime ministers from various parties protested against the federal government’s planned new legal basis, which provides for far fewer protective measures in everyday life. No concrete decisions were made on how to proceed in the spring. In the Bundestag, there were also sharp exchanges on the subject of universal mandatory vaccination.

The chairman of the conference of state premiers, Hendrik Wüst (CDU) from North Rhine-Westphalia, stressed that the states are openly protesting against the future legal framework for covidien restrictions. “The federal government now bears responsibility for the fact that the federal states have been deprived of the tools for quick and effective basic protection,” Wüst said. He further added that the planned regulations are legally questionable and unworkable in practice. This mainly concerns the regulations for regions with outbreaks of coronavirus infections, where the situation is very serious.

Scholz: the situation in hospitals is not as dramatic as in previous periods with high infection rates

Scholz defended the changes initiated by the coalition government, which the Bundestag and Bundesrat are expected to approve this Friday. He stressed that the coronavirus pandemic is not over yet. Nevertheless, the situation in hospitals is not developing as dramatically as in the past, during periods when morbidity was also at very high levels. We are now “entering a new phase of the pandemic in which, like almost all neighboring countries, we will abandon most protective measures,” the German chancellor said. In his view, the draft law provides a legal basis on which further action can be taken.

The new legislation should come into force this Sunday, as the current rules expire this Saturday. To prevent infections, some general guidelines for masks and testing in facilities with at-risk individuals are left in place. The wearing of masks on buses and trains will continue to be required. In the case of local outbreaks, however, it will be possible to impose more far-reaching restrictions if the state parliament deems the pandemic situation in the region to be critical. For the time being, many states want to take advantage of the transitional period and maintain current protection rules until April 2.

Scholz said: “We believe that with this legislation everything that needs to be done can be done.” Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) has made it clear that she expects the Bundestag to immediately consider changes to the rules if the pandemic situation worsens. Scholz assured that this would be done if necessary. There was no shortage of criticism at Thursday’s conference. Winfried Kretschmann (Greens), head of government of Baden-Württemberg, said: “Never before has there been such treatment of the federal states.” The SPD-led federal states have also been critical.

Lauterbach: “Without compulsory vaccination in the autumn, we will find ourselves in the same situation as now”

Earlier, the Bundestag first debated two bills and three motions for or against mandatory vaccination. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) said: “For the first time, we can end a pandemic in Germany by introducing mandatory vaccination. We will be in the same place in the fall as we are now if we don’t collectively take advantage of this unique opportunity.” Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) said: “Let’s finally put an end to this pandemic, defeat the virus and regain freedom.”

The idea of introducing compulsory vaccination is stirring up a lot of emotion among German politicians. Tabea Rößner of the Greens, for example, is against it: “Many have concerns, some report strong post-vaccination reactions,” she argued. Left-wing politician Gregor Gysi said: “I supported this in the case of measles, because this succeeded in eradicating the disease, but with this vaccine it will not work.” The chairwoman of the AfD parliamentary faction Alice Weidel called for the withdrawal of proposals to make vaccination mandatory. In her view, this violates the fundamental rights of citizens.

Scholz did not speak in this discussion, but reaffirmed his support for the introduction of mandatory vaccination for all people over the age of 18. The bill, prepared by a group of MPs, has the support of 237 parliamentarians, according to its co-initiator Heike Baehrens (SPD). In addition, a group centered around FDP MP Andrew Ullmann has presented a draft on mandatory counseling and then a possible obligation to vaccinate people who are over the age of 50. On the other hand, the group around FDP Vice-Chair Wolfgang Kubicki opposes mandatory vaccination. After the first debate in parliament, consultations with experts will take place next Monday. The Bundestag is expected to make a decision on the issue in early April.


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