- On Wednesday, Germany is expected to make a decision on tighter Covid restrictions.
- More Covid rules, as well as a complete or partial lockdown, have being considered by officials.
- As the delta variety takes hold in Germany, the number of Covid cases is at an all-time high, putting a strain on hospitals.
- Jens Spahn, Germany's outgoing health minister, has already given a grim warning to Germans this week.
In the face of record daily infections and rising pressure on hospitals, Germany is poised to impose stricter Covid-19 restrictions, possibly even a full lockdown.
Germany's chancellor-designate, Olaf Scholz, said Wednesday that the Covid situation was serious and that the country would ramp up its vaccine effort, emphasising that "vaccination is the only way out of this pandemic."
Scholz suggested that Germany "should make vaccination mandatory for some groups," but did not specify which groups, while new Finance Minister Christian Lindner stated that Germans should avoid any unnecessary contact this winter "to preserve our collective health in this pandemic."
Scholz's decision to address the Covid situation while announcing a draught coalition agreement with his new government partners on Wednesday demonstrates where the authorities' immediate interests lie.
'Vaccinated, rehabilitated, or dead'
Jens Spahn, Germany's outgoing health minister, delivered a stark warning to Germans this week, predicting that "very much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, recovered, or dead" by the end of the winter. Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the presidents of Germany's 16 federal states to agree on harsher guidelines by Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Spahn renewed his plea, saying that additional public venues should be confined to individuals who have been vaccinated, recently recovered, or have had a negative test — often known as the "3G rule." Starting on Wednesday, 3G rules will apply to all Germans commuting to work or using public transportation.
Many German states have already implemented "2G rules," banning admission to public areas such as taverns, restaurants, movie theatres, and museums to only those who have been vaccinated or recovered, or "genesen." The 2G guidelines have been accepted by a number of large German Christmas markets that have not been cancelled this year.
Last Monday, the government and federal states agreed to additional nationwide limits that would take effect based on each federal state's hospitalisation rate.
Vaccines and hospitals
Spahn also cautioned about increasing pressure on German hospitals, saying that "we are having to shuffle patients around since intensive care units are packed, and that doesn't just affect Covid-19 patients,” he told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio, according to a Reuters translation.
The number of daily Covid infections reached a new high on Wednesday, with 66,884 new cases (a huge increase from the 45,326 new cases recorded Tuesday), and the seven-day incidence rate passed 400 for the first time since the pandemic began, according to the Robert Koch Institute. To date, the virus has killed about 100,000 individuals in Germany.
German officials are also thought to be considering making vaccinations mandatory, after urging people who have not yet been vaccinated to do so. With only 68 percent of the population completely vaccinated, the country has one of the lowest immunisation rates in Western Europe.
As winter approaches, Germany, like other European countries, has been desperately seeking to increase Covid vaccines and the deployment of booster doses. However, vaccine apprehension and the introduction of the extremely infectious delta Covid form, which is significantly more virulent than prior strains, make the job much more difficult.
Compulsory vaccinations have long been a contentious topic in Europe, but the catastrophic Covid landscape has heightened the discussion, with some politicians believing that requiring immunizations is the only way to stop the virus.
Covid vaccinations significantly reduce the risk of severe infection, hospitalisation, and death from the virus, but we also know that vaccine immunity fades after six months and that they aren't 100 percent effective at preventing transmission.
Experts believe there are a variety of ethical issues to consider when it comes to vaccine mandates, but some countries have prioritised the overall value of vaccination.
Austria has already announced that Covid vaccines will be mandatory for frontline health workers beginning February 1 next year (it has also recently implemented a full lockdown), and a number of other countries (including Italy and France) have made Covid vaccines mandatory for frontline health workers. In spring 2022, the United Kingdom will follow suit.
Germany's states have called for mandatory vaccines for doctors and health-care personnel, and the federal government is considering the notion after earlier ruling out forced immunisation.
The fact that some legislators are now advocating for mandatory immunisation demonstrates Germany's present level of worry about the Covid situation.
Tilman Kuban, the head of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union's youth wing, wrote in Die Welt on Sunday that "we've reached a point where we must clearly say that we need de facto compulsory vaccination and a lockdown for the unvaccinated," noting that 90 percent of coronavirus patients in German intensive care beds are unvaccinated.
"It cannot be that the entire population is kept away every winter," Kuban said, adding that the unvaccinated were dragging Germany "to the brink of desperation."