German chancellor-designate Scholz defends bans for unvaccinated

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Berlin (dpa) – Olaf Scholz, who is expected to become Germany’s new chancellor next week, on Saturday defended moves to shut unvaccinated people out of large parts of public life, as protests took place in various cities.

Scholz admitted that the return of restrictions was difficult. “But precisely because not enough have been vaccinated, we have to do it again,” he said in Berlin at a conference of his Social Democratic Party (SPD), where delegates gave their blessing to Scholz’s new centre-left coalition with the Greens and the pro-business FDP.

Scholz stressed that restaurants, cultural venues and retail could remain open under so-called 2G rules, which restrict entry to only those who are vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19.

He compared the current situation to last winter, when sweeping closures took their toll on all Germans.

“Now we can focus on regulations aimed at those who have not taken the opportunity to protect themselves,” he said, adding that such an approach was justifiable since authorities have acted to boost the number of coronavirus vaccines on offer.

Scholz, who is set to take over from conservative politician Angela Merkel, promised a “completely new campaign” so that millions of people could be vaccinated “in this month of December.”

Federal and state leaders in Germany have set a target of administering up to 30 million first, second and booster vaccinations by the end of the year.

Addressing the public in her last weekly podcast as chancellor on Saturday, Merkel also renewed her appeal for more vaccinations, while urging people to “take this treacherous virus seriously.”

“We are in the middle of this fourth wave of the pandemic in a very serious situation, in some parts of our country it can only be called dramatic,” Merkel said in the recorded message. 

She referred to “overcrowded intensive care units,” seriously ill patients who had to be flown across Germany, and the “terribly high number” of people who have died after catching the coronavirus. 

“Every one of them leaves behind families or friends, stunned, helpless,” she said. “This is especially bitter because it could be avoided – with effective and safe vaccines, we hold the key.”

The coming difficult weeks can only be overcome with a joint effort, Merkel said. “I sincerely wish that we will succeed together.”

According to data from the Health Ministry on Saturday, at least 57.3 million people, or 68.9 per cent of the German population, now have full basic protection against the coronavirus. At least 13 million vaccinated people have received an additional booster dose.

Outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn said that a total of almost 3 million vaccinations have been administered in the past three days. 

The vaccination campaign and coronavirus restrictions have been met with staunch opposition by some in German society, leading to protests on Saturday in several cities, including the capital.

In Berlin, several people were detained as critics of the government’s pandemic response took to the streets despite police having banned the event from taking place.

A police statement, which estimated turnout at a “low-range three-digit number,” said some protesters had resisted officers and that one man had attacked a journalist by trying to steal his phone.

In Potsdam, a city on the border of Berlin, high-ranking members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party, and its supporters demonstrated against coronavirus restrictions and a possible vaccine mandate.

Dennis Hohloch, a local AfD representative, said around 200-250 people had attended the event on Saturday; a dpa reporter at the scene put the number closer to 100. Police made no comment on the turnout.

The largest demonstration on Saturday by far was in Hamburg. A police spokesperson said 5,000 people attended a protest in the northern port city against coronavirus measures.

The protest has been taking place every Saturday there for weeks.

The spokesperson said the latest event was peaceful but spoke of difficulties in enforcing social-distancing rules.

On Friday evening, a crowd of torch-bearing protesters gathered outside the private residence of the state health minister of Saxony, currently one of the country’s worst-hit states.

Police have launched an investigation after the demonstration in the eastern town of Grimma, looking into suspected violations of assembly and coronavirus rules.

The SPD minister, Petra Koepping, decried the stunt, arguing that Saxony’s coronavirus restrictions were entirely legitimate.

“I am always ready to talk. But torch protests in front of my house are disgusting and indecent,” Koepping told dpa.

She referred to the incident as an attempt by right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists to intimidate her.

DPA

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