Germany to extend curbs amid criticism over vaccine scheme
Germany is poised to extend stricter lockdown measures beyond January 10 amid criticism over alleged failures in the government’s fledgling vaccination program.
Regional and federal officials will hold preliminary talks later on Monday, before Chancellor Angela Merkel consults with the 16 state premiers a day later to decide on prolonging restrictions that include closing schools and non-essential stores.
Authorities have agreed to continue curbs until January 31, Bild newspaper reported, without identifying the source of the information.
“Open stores, open schools mean such movement, such a large chance of infecting one another without noticing it, that it’s not worth it,” Saxony Premier Michael Kretschmer told ARD television on Monday. “So, it’s better to be more consistent for longer now and then possibly have an easing that doesn’t need to be reversed.”
While there is a broad consensus that it’s too early to ease up, accusations that Germany has bungled its vaccine rollout have spilled out into the open. A top official from the junior partner in Merkel’s ruling coalition criticised Health Minister Jens Spahn for what he said were unacceptable delays in distributing a vaccine jointly developed by Germany’s BioNTech SE.
Europe has become an epicenter of the pandemic since cases began ticking up again in October, with more than 400,000 coronavirus-related deaths and 17.3 million infections. That’s prompted governments across the region to consider sharpening restrictions on movement and contact.
Germany’s daily tally of virus cases and deaths reached record numbers last week, before falling back over the New Year.
Those lower numbers may not reflect an accurate snapshot of the pandemic as there was less testing and reporting over the holiday period, health authorities said.
A clearer picture of how year-end celebrations have influenced the spread of the virus will only emerge by mid-January, and therefore the lockdown needs to be extended through the end of the month, Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder said on Sunday, adding that an open-and-close strategy had failed in Austria and elsewhere.
Meanwhile there has been mounting criticism over delays and confusion in Germany’s vaccination strategy.
Germany and the EU began vaccinations on December 27 using the BioNTech shot the company jointly developed with Pfizer Inc. Officials have said it will take months for the immunisation effort to have a tangible impact on the spread of the virus.
According to the latest data from the RKI public health institute, 238,809 people had been immunised by Sunday morning, less than 0.3% of the population. That compares with 1.3% in the US and 1.4% in Britain, which both began vaccinating several weeks earlier.
The Bild tabloid, Germany’s biggest-selling daily, has blamed Merkel personally for the apparent shortage of doses. The chancellor prevented Spahn’s plan for a national vaccine alliance and pushed instead for a EU-wide solution which led to a lack of BioNTech shots, the paper said.
Spahn has defended Germany’s decision to buy and distribute vaccines simultaneously among EU members, saying it was fairer for the smaller countries that wouldn’t have been able to negotiate equal terms with manufacturers.
Lars Klingbeil, the general secretary of the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in Merkel’s coalition, said Monday that the start of the immunisation campaign has been “chaotic.” Spahn has failed to either secure sufficient doses or effectively coordinate with Germany’s federal states, he told ARD.
He urged Merkel and Spahn to convene a meeting with pharma company executives to discuss ways of ramping up production, including with BioNTech.
“We’re in a much worse position than other countries,” Klingbeil said. “It can’t be that the country where the vaccine is created has too few doses.”
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