BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s health minister on Tuesday denounced calls by the main opposition party to suspend the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health workers, saying it would send a a dangerous signal that authorities are giving in to anti-vaccine protests.
Parliament in December approved the legislation which will require hospital and nursing home staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, with the main centre-right opposition Union bloc among those backing it. Under the new law, those workers will have to show that they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 by mid-March.
But in recent weeks some local officials have complained that they lack the resources to implement it and the rules are unclear. On Monday, Bavaria’s conservative governor said he planned not to implement the requirement at least for now, citing concerns about labor shortages.
Union bloc health policy spokesman Tino Sorge told Tuesday’s edition of the Bild daily that the federal government would have to accept that the new rules were “barely achievable at the moment”. He argued that the mandate should be suspended nationwide “until the central legal and practical issues are resolved”.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told reporters the opposition’s stance was “very problematic” and noted the aim was to protect vulnerable patients, not harass medical staff.
“It sends a signal that protests against the facility-specific vaccination mandate are more important to us — that we want to prevent those protests — than protecting these (vulnerable) people,” Lauterbach said.
The minister added that authorities have been expecting people to accept well-founded coronavirus restrictions for months, and it is “a very dangerous signal” for governors to suggest the rules do not apply. their. Under German law, it is up to state governments to implement the rules.
He said he hoped to find a solution and would continue to work on “the instruments with which we can support the implementation” of the mandate. Lauterbach warned that it is wrong to assume that the omicron variant, which is highly contagious but generally causes milder disease than previous variants, makes periods unnecessary.
The prospects of a expanded vaccination mandate for all adults or older age groups are uncertain. Chancellor Olaf Scholz backed a universal mandate but, with his own split government coalition, left it to parliament to make proposals. It is unclear if and when a decision will be made.
Germany is still seeing its infection rates reach record highs, but the current omicron-fueled surge is expected to peak in mid to late February. Officials say they are working on plans to ease restrictions, which remain stricter in Germany than in several other European countries, once infections subside.
Amid growing calls from centre-right politicians, particularly for a relaxation of the rules, Lauterbach said now was not the time.
“We cannot justify a broad easing at this time,” he said. “We have 100 to 150 deaths every day, way too many…if there was a quick opening now, we would lengthen the wave considerably.”
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