The coronavirus pandemic is not over, 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 pointed to the sharp increase in cases that are 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 from the pandemic every day,” Lauterbach told journalists in Berlin. “So the impression that the pandemic has been defeated is wrong.”
Lauterbach held a two-day meeting with his counterparts from the Group of Seven’s leading democracies on Thursday and Friday.
US Secretary of Health Xavier Becerra was supposed to be there in person, but he tested positive in Berlin on Wednesday – a day after meeting Lauterbach and other prominent figures in the German pandemic fight. Becerra planned to attend the meetings via video, officials said.
Lauterbach said G7 health ministers would hold a new pandemic response exercise involving a fictional new strain of smallpox transmitted to humans through a leopard bite, mostly affecting young people.
“There is actually a realistic background for such a scenario,” he said, referring to recent outbreaks of monkeypox cases reported in Britain, Portugal and the United States.
Lauterbach said monkeypox cases are also being discussed, along with the growing risk of disease spreading from animals to humans due to climate change.
Separately, the German Constitutional Court announced on Thursday that it had dismissed complaints against compulsory vaccinations for health workers on the grounds that the importance of protecting vulnerable people in hospitals and nursing homes outweighed any violation of workers’ rights.
The temporary mandate came into force in mid-March. The Constitutional Court had previously declined to issue an injunction blocking its implementation while it made a final decision.
Lauterbach welcomed the verdict, saying “the state has an obligation to protect vulnerable groups.” He thanked the healthcare facilities that implemented the mandate, arguing that they had helped prevent more deaths from the Omicron variant.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz initially wanted to extend the vaccination requirement to all adults, but a proposal to impose it on people over the age of 60 was also rejected by the legislature.
Almost 76% of people in Germany have received two vaccinations against the coronavirus so far, and almost 60% have also received a booster vaccination. Demand for vaccines is very low right now, but the government agreed on Wednesday to spend more money on new vaccines to allow Germany to treat a range of possible variants this autumn.
Germany has seen over 138,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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