Germany says pandemic not over as court OKs vaccine mandate
BERLIN (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic is not over yet, Germany’s health minister warned Thursday as the country’s highest court approved rules requiring health workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach noted the sharp rise in cases currently happening in some Asian countries, such as North Korea, but also parts of Europe.
“In Germany, too, an average of 130 to 150 people are dying every day due to the pandemic,” Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin. “So the impression that the pandemic has been defeated is wrong.”
Lauterbach was holding a two-day meeting with his counterparts from the Group of Seven leading democracies on Thursday and Friday.
U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra had been due to attend in person but tested positive in Berlin on Wednesday — a day after meeting Lauterbach and other prominent figures in Germany’s pandemic response effort. Becerra planned to take part in the meetings by video, officials said.
Lauterbach said the G-7 health ministers would conduct an exercise in how to respond to a new pandemic, involving a fictitious new strain of pox that’s spread to humans by way of a leopard bite and affects mainly young people.
“There is indeed a realistic backdrop to such a scenario,” he said, referring to the recent outbreak of monkeypox cases reported in Britain, Portugal and the United States.
Lauterbach said the monkeypox cases would also be discussed, along with the growing risk of diseases spreading from animals to humans due to climate change.
Separately, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court announced Thursday that it has rejected complaints against compulsory vaccinations for health workers, arguing that the importance of protecting vulnerable people in hospitals and nursing homes outweighs any infringement of employees’ rights.
The limited mandate came into effect in mid-March. The constitutional court had previously refused to issue an injunction blocking its implementation while it reached a final decision.
Lauterbach welcomed the ruling, saying that “the state is obliged to protect vulnerable groups.” He thanked health facilities that have implemented the mandate, arguing that they have helped prevent more deaths from the omicron variant.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz initially wanted to extend the vaccine mandate to all adults, but even a proposal to impose one on people aged 60 and older was rejected by lawmakers.
Almost 76% of Germany’s people have received two shots against coronavirus so far, and nearly 60% have also received a booster shot. The demand for vaccination is very low at present, but the government on Wednesday approved spending more money on new vaccines that will allow Germany to deal with a series of possible variants this fall.
Germany has seen over 138,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.