BERLIN — The fourth coronavirus wave has beaten Germany’s next government into office.
Monday’s record weekly number of new coronavirus infections led the three parties attempting to hammer out a coalition agreement to rush out a set of proposals to contain a surge that has been fueled by Germany’s relatively low rate of vaccination.
“I worry more and more every day about how the fourth wave is affecting our country right now — this is very dramatic,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, parliamentary group leader of the Greens, who are trying to form an alliance with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
Speaking in Berlin, Göring-Eckardt said it would be vital to reinstate free coronavirus tests, which were phased out last month; to ensure that hospitals can deal with an increase in severe cases; and to improve safety in the workplace. She also expressed sympathy for rules adopted in Austria and some German regions requiring people to be vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 to gain access to restaurants or shopping malls.
“I am very much in favor of now sending letters to people who can get a third vaccination,” Göring-Eckardt said, emphasizing the importance of eligible people getting booster shots, as intensive care beds fill up again at dangerous rates in some parts of the country.
Also on Monday, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel saw plans to reintroduce free testing “positively,” while FDP whip Marco Buschmann called for “a strict testing obligation, not only for the non-vaccinated … in care homes for the elderly,” to prevent the virus from entering institutions with vulnerable occupants.
This time is different
However, although infection numbers are as high as a year ago, when Germany closed bars and restaurants on November 1 and all nonessential businesses in December, the country is not on such high alert as it was then, given close to 70 percent of Germans have been fully vaccinated.
That’s also why outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn — from the conservative CDU — and the three parties hoping to form the next government have spoken out against an extension of special powers that serve as the legal basis for most coronavirus restrictions that are due to expire on November 25.
Asked why she, too, was against such an extension, Göring-Eckardt said she was “very worried that we … would then get into a situation where courts will overturn the rules,” over a lack of the measures’ proportionality in the face of widely available vaccines.
Marco Buschmann took a similar stance, arguing that the availability of vaccines made it a constitutional imperative to restrict the leeway of the executive again. “Our liberal constitution is quite simple: If it is not necessary to intervene in the separation of powers, then it is necessary not to intervene in the separation of powers,” he said.
Göring-Eckardt said that the prospective coalition parties, which have a majority in the newly constituted parliament, would submit their legislative proposals Monday. Parliament would convene for a first reading of the bill Thursday, and next week for second and third readings.