BERLIN (AP)- Sunday, German politicians were deeply divided over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff warnings that unvaccinated people may see restrictions if COVID-19 infections soar in the coming months.
Chief of staff Helge Braun told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he doesn’t expect another coronavirus-related lockdown in Germany. But Braun said that unvaccinated people might be barred from entering venues like restaurants, movie theatres, or sports stadiums “because the residual risk is too high.”
Getting vaccinated is critical to protect against severe disease and because “vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people, Braun said. ” The state has responsibilities to protect the health of its citizens,” and such policies would be legal, he stated.
Braun’s comments filed the debate regarding potential vaccinations requirements in German politics. A divisive issue even with Merkel’s own Christian Democrats party. Its candidate to replace Merkel as Germany’s leader, Armin Laschet, said he opposes any formal or informal vaccine requirements for the time being.
“I don’t believe in compulsory vaccinations, and I don’t believe we should put indirect pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told the German broadcaster ZDF on Sunday. “In a free country there are rights to freedom, not just for specific groups.”
Laschet said, if Germany’s vaccination rates remain too low this fall, other options could be considered, “but not now.”
As the delta variant spreads in Germany, the debate over compulsory vaccination of specific professions will include medical workers. However, no such requirements have yet been implemented.
More than 60% of the German population has received an initial dose of vaccine, and over 49 percent are fully vaccinated.
Merkel ruled out new vaccine requirements “at the moment,” while visiting Robert Koch Institute recently; he added, “I’m not ruling out that this might be talked about differently in a few months either.”
Baden-Württemberg governor Winfried Kretschmann, a Greens member, told the German news agency dpa that “I can’t rule out compulsory vaccinations for all time.”
Karl Lauterbach, a health expert from the centre-left Social Democrats, spoke in favor of possible restrictions. He told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that soon, one of the only remaining options to fight new variants will be “to restrict access to spaces where many people come together” to those who have either been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.
Braun’s comments say immediate push back on Sunday, as some expressed skeptics of the effectiveness of such restrictions, others warned against the rights based on the vaccination status.
“Of course, we need incentives to reach the highest possible vaccination rate,” Marco Buschmann, parliamentary group leader for the pro-business Free Democrats, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group.
Still, he said, if unvaccinated people who have been tested or recovered from the virus pose no greater danger than vaccinated people, to impose such restrictions on the unvaccinated “would be a violation of their basic rights.”
Social Democrats parliamentary group head Rof Mützenich argued politicians should focus on vaccinating the willing instead of penalizing the unvaccinated.
“We’re not going to sustainably change the vaccination behaviour of individuals with threats,” he told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.