Germany says pandemic not over as court approves vaccine mandate

BERLIN – The coronavirus pandemic is not over yet, Germany’s health minister warned on 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 increase in cases currently occurring in some Asian countries, such as North Korea, but also in parts of Europe.

“In Germany, too, an average of 130 to 150 people die 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 main Group of Seven democracies on Thursday and Friday.

US Health Secretary Xavier Becerra was due to attend in person, but tested positive in Berlin on Wednesday – a day after meeting with Lauterbach and other prominent figures in Germany’s pandemic response effort. Becerra planned to participate in the meetings via video, officials said.

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Lauterbach said G-7 health ministers would conduct an exercise on how to respond to a new pandemic, involving a fictional new strain of smallpox that spreads to humans through a leopard bite and primarily affects young people.

“There is indeed a realistic backdrop for such a scenario,” he said, referring to the recent outbreak of monkeypox cases reported in Britain, Portugal and the United States.

Lauterbach said cases of monkeypox would also be discussed, along with the growing risk of disease spreading from animals to humans due to climate change.

Separately, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court announced on Thursday that it had dismissed complaints against compulsory vaccinations for healthcare workers, arguing that the importance of protecting vulnerable people in hospitals and nursing homes outweighs on any violation of employee rights.

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The limited tenure went into effect in mid-March. The constitutional court had previously refused to issue an injunction blocking its implementation as it issued a final decision.

Lauterbach welcomed the decision, saying “the state is obligated to protect vulnerable groups.” He thanked the healthcare institutions that implemented the mandate, saying they helped prevent more deaths from the omicron variant.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz initially wanted to extend the mandate of the vaccine to all adults, but even a proposal to impose one on people aged 60 and over was rejected by lawmakers.

So far, almost 76% of Germans have received two injections against the coronavirus, and almost 60% have also received a booster injection. Demand for vaccines is currently very low, but the government on Wednesday approved spending more money on new vaccines that will allow Germany to deal with a range of possible variants this fall.

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Germany has recorded more than 138,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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