Germany on Tuesday inched closer to mandatory coronavirus vaccines after incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz said they were necessary to contain a fierce fourth wave of the pandemic.
Following crisis talks with acting Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states, Scholz said he wanted parliament to vote on the matter before the end of the year.
“Too many people have not got vaccinated,” Scholz told Bild television. Making jabs compulsory is justified “to protect us all”.
The compulsory vaccinations should be in force “in the beginning of February or March so we must move quickly now,” Scholz said, promising that lawmakers would be allowed to vote according to their conscience. Generally, MPs are expected to vote with their parties on key issues, but with ethically sensitive issues, exceptions can be made to allow parliamentarians to be guided by their conscience alone.
In the meeting, Scholz had signalled his personal support for such a measure. He said he was “aware that there were cross-party debates” among lawmakers about making the vaccine compulsory, a source said.
“Scholz signalled his sympathy for such a regulation,” added the source, who is from Scholz’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The introduction of a general vaccine mandate has been a hot topic in Germany after Austria announced the move. It has previously been ruled out in Germany but fears are growing over the dramatic fourth Covid wave and the newly detected Omicron variant.
According to sources of German news magazine Spiegel, Scholz said that compulsory vaccinations should be in place “when everyone has had a realistic chance to be double-vaccinated.”
What else is happening in the talks?
Scholz, Merkel and the heads of Germany’s 16 states had been discussing tougher curbs to confront record-high infection rates and rapidly filling intensive care beds. Among the measures discussed were the closures of bars and clubs, and limiting large events.
Several hard-hit German regions have already cancelled Christmas markets and barred the unvaccinated from public spaces like gyms and leisure facilities. But critics say the patchwork of rules is confusing, and Tuesday’s crisis talks are aimed at coming up with more uniform rules for the whole country.
Scholz reportedly spoke to Merkel and the state premiers about a “national task” in which solidarity had to be shown with the German states experiencing extreme infection figures.
The incoming Chancellor said he wanted to see 30 million Covid jabs administered to people in Germany by Christmas – and that this would help to break the wave. He said for this to happen, more vaccination offers were needed – involving pharmacists, dentists and vets in giving out shots.
According to German media, Scholz has also told participants at the talks that he is in favour of barring the unvaccinated from more parts of public life, including non-essential retail.
It comes after Germany’s highest court ruled that extreme Covid measures like curfews and contact bans – dubbed the emergency brake – were lawful, possibly paving the way for authorities to bring in tougher restrictions again if the situation calls for it.
The scheduled meeting between the federal government and state leaders has been moved forward by a week to December 2nd.