German politicians were deeply divided Sunday over a warning by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff that restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary if COVID-19 infection numbers reach new heights in the coming months.
Chief of staff Helge Braun told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he doesn’t expect another coronavirus-related lockdown in Germany. But Braun said that unvaccinated people may be barred from entering venues like restaurants, movie theatres or sports stadiums “because the residual risk is too high.”
Braun said getting vaccinated is important to protect against severe disease and because “vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people.” He said such policies would be legal because “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens.”
His comments fueled a debate in German politics about potential vaccination requirements. The issue has proven divisive, even within Merkel’s own Christian Democrats party. Its candidate to replace Merkel as Germany’s leader, Armin Laschet, said he opposes any formal or informal vaccine requirements for the time being.
“I don’t believe in compulsory vaccinations and I don’t believe we should put indirect pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told the German broadcaster ZDF on Sunday. “In a free country there are rights to freedom, not just for specific groups.”
If Germany’s vaccination rates remain too low this fall, other options could be considered, Laschet said, adding “but not now.”
During a recent visit to the Robert Koch Institute, the government-run disease control agency, Merkel ruled out new vaccine requirements “at the moment,” but added, “I’m not ruling out that this might be talked about differently in a few months either.”
Other elected officials have struck a similar tone. Baden-Württemberg governor Winfried Kretschmann, a member of the Greens, noted Sunday that the delta variant and others that may emerge could make vaccine requirements more attractive down the line.
While there are no current plans to require people to get vaccinated, he told the German news agency dpa that “I can’t rule out compulsory vaccinations for all time.”