Germany could make Covid vaccination mandatory, says Merkel

Vaccination could become mandatory in Germany from February, with tough extra restrictions also applying to people who are unvaccinated, the country’s outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, has announced.

Merkel, who met Germany’s 16 state leaders on Thursday with her successor, Olaf Scholz, for emergency talks on tougher measures to stem rocketing Covid cases, said the situation was “very serious” and an “act of national solidarity” was required.

“We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken,” she said. “To do this, the fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved.”

She said Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, would first vote on the proposed vaccine mandate, with the country’s ethics council due to issue formal guidance by the end of the year and the rule – if passed – coming into force from February.

The move would follow the example of neighbouring Austria, which is planning mandatory vaccinations from February. Greece has also announced mandatory jabs for the over-60s, with unvaccinated people facing fines if they fail to comply.

New daily infections in Germany have broken records in recent weeks, with many hospitals operating at or over capacity and being forced to send patients elsewhere for treatment. Authorities said 73,209 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.

Experts have blamed the fourth wave on the country’s relatively low vaccination rate of about 68% compared with several other EU countries such as Spain, which has fully vaccinated 79% of its population, and Portugal, which is 86% vaccinated.

“From the point of view of intensive and emergency medicine, the pandemic situation has never been as threatening and serious as it is today,” the intensive care association said this week, calling for a drastic tightening of restrictions.

Merkel’s outgoing government had previously ruled out mandatory vaccination, but the measure has since won broad political backing. “We don’t have enough vaccinated people,” Scholz said after the meeting. “We now know that this has consequences.”

In what German media called “a lockdown of the unvaccinated”, Merkel also announced a blanket ban on those who have not been vaccinated or recovered from Covid entering bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other leisure facilities.

In areas where the incidence rate exceeds 350 per 100,000 people, discos and nightclubs will close and private gatherings will be limited to 50 people indoors and 200 outdoors – providing everyone involved has been vaccinated or recovered.

If there are unvaccinated people in the mix, households may invite a maximum of two outside guests, not including children under 14. Masks are to become compulsory in schools.

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