FRANKFUTY: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisted on Friday January 7 that his plan to introduce mandatory coronavirus vaccines was on track, despite fierce debate over the controversial decision and growing resistance from his own coalition partners .
Scholz, who recently took over from Angela Merkel as chancellor, introduced mandatory jabs for all adults at the end of November as the safest way out of the pandemic.
The center-left social democrat has asked deputies of the lower house of parliament to draft the necessary legislation in order to introduce the measure “at the end of February or the beginning of March”.
However, little progress has been made since then, and the rapidly spreading but less severe Omicron strain has raised further doubts about the project, especially among the pro-business FDP party.
Speaking after a meeting with leaders of Germany’s 16 states on tighter coronavirus restrictions, Scholz reiterated that “it would be nice if we ended up with a general vaccine mandate.”
He said all German state prime ministers have declared their support for the plan.
“I feel fully supported” by them, he said.
The same cannot be said of the FDP, which, together with the Greens, forms the three-way coalition government of Scholz.
Although coronavirus cases are on the rise, Germany has so far been spared the surge in Omicron which has swept other countries – prompting FDP Justice Minister Marco Buschmann to call for a wait-and-see approach on a general vaccine mandate.
FDP chief Christian Lindner said new findings “may play a role in the decision,” nodding to Omicron infecting even the triple sting, and studies suggesting a lower hospitalization rate than the Delta variant.
“Protecting human health and life is highly desirable. But our greatest asset (…) is and remains our freedom,” he said on Thursday.
Germany’s first parliamentary debate on mandatory jabs is not expected until the end of January, even though Scholz himself initially aimed for lawmakers to discuss the issue before the 2021 exit.
“The longer the discussion on compulsory vaccinations lasts (…) the more the project falters”, writes the Sueddeutsche newspaper.
Hundreds, sometimes thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to denounce the government’s Covid approach and vaccination plan in recent weeks, sometimes resulting in clashes with police.
With just over 71% of the population getting a double bite, Germany has a lower coronavirus vaccination rate than France, Italy or Spain.
Almost 42% of Germans have had their booster injection, seen as crucial in the fight against Omicron.
Like several other countries, Germany has already announced vaccination warrants for people in certain professions, including soldiers and health workers.
Neighboring Austria has gone further and is set to introduce a general mandate on vaccines, which could be the first in Europe.
Although it sparked controversy there as well, the measure is supported by all political parties except the far-right Austrian FPOe.
“Compulsory vaccination will come, all experts agree on the high protective effect also against Omicron and hospitalizations,” said Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.
A government spokeswoman on Friday dismissed media suggestions that Scholz had lost control of his schedule, saying compulsory vaccination was a “sensitive topic” that deserved a “public and broad” discussion.
Several MPs from the FDP, a party traditionally in favor of weak government intervention, said they would table a motion against the plan.
FDP lawmaker and health expert Andrew Ullmann suggested a compromise, saying he would offer mandatory jabs only for those over 50, like Italy.
Meanwhile, the opposition has attacked Scholz for throwing the buck in parliament instead of having the government spearhead the bill.
“We need speed and leadership,” said Hendrik Wuest, premier of the North Rhine-Westphalian state of the center-right CDU, warning against “political maneuvering” in the fight against the pandemic.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, epidemiologist for the Scholz Social Democrats, said the mandatory jabs had to happen quickly to avoid the worst of what Omicron – and its future variants – might have in store.
“Compulsory vaccination is the way that is necessary for Germany,” he told RTL television.