Country approaching grim Covid milestone mulls vaccine mandate

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Germans could be subject to vaccine mandates as the country grapples with its worst Covid-19 outbreak of the entire pandemic.

Germany is inching its way toward the mark of 100,000 Covid deaths and recorded a whopping 66,884 new daily cases on Wednesday, The World Health Organization (WHO) reports.

German weekly Die Zeit, which conducts its own count based on local health authority figures, says the 100,000 deaths milestone has already passed.

With its hospitals under considerable and mounting strain, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the leaders of Germany’s 16 states to impose stricter rules, or even a full or partial lockdown.

Despite initially refusing to comment on whether he would back mandatory shots, leader-in-waiting Olaf Scholz, who will replace Merkel as chancellor next month, said on Wednesday the country “should make vaccination compulsory for certain groups”, CNBC reports.

A patient receives medical care from a specialist in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the Rechts der Isar hospital in Germany.
German leaders are pushing for a vaccine mandate as it inches its way toward 100,000 Covid deaths. Source: Peter Kneffel/dpa/AAP

Germany's low vaccination rate

The country has a shockingly low vaccination rate compared to its European neighbours, with just 68 per cent of the population fully jabbed. Officials had hoped to reach at least 75 per cent. 

“Sadly, the coronavirus still hasn’t been beaten,” Scholz said while announcing plans to create a team of experts to advise officials daily about the Covid pandemic.

“Every day we see new records as far as the number of infections are concerned.”

Speaking alongside the leaders of the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, Scholz said the new government will require staff in care homes to get vaccinated.

He said an expansion of the measure may be considered but didn’t elaborate.

A fund of 1 billion euros (A$1.55 billion) will also be established to provide bonus payments to carers in hospitals and nursing homes, he said

The three parties recently used their parliamentary majority to pass a law that replaces the existing legal foundations for pandemic restrictions with narrower measures, starting Wednesday.

These include a requirement for workers to provide their employers with proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test.

A graph showing the increase in Germany's daily covid cases.
Germany recorded a whopping 66,884 new daily cases on Thursday. Source: Worldofmetres

The change was criticised by Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc as making it harder for Germany’s 16 governors to impose hard lockdowns.

Merkel’s spokesman said on Wednesday that “there are many experts who doubt that what’s been decided so far, as sensible and important as it is, will be enough to slow the wave (of infections).”

Earlier this week, two state leaders published a joint article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung pushing for mandatory vaccinations, Bloomberg reports.

“Too few people are getting vaccinated, and hopes of a quick exit from the pandemic have vanished,” Markus Soeder and Winfried Kretschmann wrote.

“A general vaccination requirement would be the best and fastest way to get us out of this crisis.”

Outgoing health minister, Jens Spahn, issued a stark warning to Germans on Tuesday, saying that by the end of winter “pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, recovered or dead”, CNBC reports.

‘Nobody had the guts to take the lead’

German officials — from Merkel to state governors and the three parties now poised for power — have been criticised for failing to take decisive steps to flatten the curve of infections during the transition period since September’s nation election.

Doctors and virologists have been warning for months that Germany faces a surge in new cases that could overwhelm its health care system, even as senior politicians politicians dangled the prospect of further lifting pandemic restrictions.

“Nobody had the guts to take the lead and announce unpopular measures,” Dr Uwe Janssens, who heads the intensive care department at the St Antonius hospital in Eschweiler, west of Cologne, said.

“This lack of leadership is the reason we are here now,” he said.

Germany Covid: ICU capacity slashed

Doctors like Janssens are bracing for an influx of coronavirus patients as confirmed cases hit fresh daily highs that experts say is also being fuelled by vaccine skeptics.

Resistance to getting the shot — including the one developed by German company BioNTech together with US partner Pfizer — remains strong among a sizeable minority of the country.

“We’ve increasingly got younger people in intensive care,” Dr Janssens said.

“The amount of time they’re treated is significantly longer and it blocks intensive care beds for a longer period.”

Older people who got vaccinated early in 2021 are also seeing their immunity wear off, making them vulnerable to serious illness again, he said.

Since January, Germany has had to cut its ICU capacity by 4,000 beds due to lack of staff, many of whom have quit because of the pressure they endured earlier in the pandemic.

“It’s hard for people to cope with this, physically and psychologically,” Dr Janssens said.

“We’ll survive, somehow,” he added.

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