German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff has warned that restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary if Covid-19 case numbers reach new heights in the coming months.
But Helge Braun said in an interview with the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he does not expect another coronavirus-related lockdown in Germany.
Unvaccinated people may be barred from entering venues such as restaurants, cinemas and stadiums “because the residual risk is too high”, he said.
He added that getting vaccinated is important to protect against severe disease but also because “vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people”.
Mr Braun said such policies would be legal because “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens”.
Germany’s vaccination efforts have slowed in recent weeks and that has led to discussions about how to encourage those who have not yet received a jab to do so.
More than 60% of the German population has received at least one dose while more than 49% are fully vaccinated.
With the highly transmissible Delta variant spreading in Germany, politicians have debated the possibility of requiring vaccination for specific professions, including medical workers. No such requirements have yet been implemented.
During a recent visit to the Robert Koch Institute, the government-run disease control agency, Mrs Merkel ruled out new vaccine requirements “at the moment”. The government would prefer to focus on encouraging vaccination for the time being, she said.
Nevertheless, she added: “I’m not ruling out that this might be talked about differently in a few months either.”
Winfried Kretschmann, governor of the south-western state of Baden-Wurttemberg, noted on Sunday that the Delta variant and others that may emerge could make vaccine requirements more attractive.
While there are no current plans to require people to get vaccinated, he told the German news agency DPA: “I can’t rule out compulsory vaccinations for all time.”
Others condemned Mr Braun’s comments, warning against freedoms and rights based on one’s vaccination status.
“Of course we need incentives to reach the highest possible vaccination rate,” Marco Buschmann, parliamentary group leader for the pro-business Free Democrats, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group.
However, he said, if it is true that unvaccinated people who have been tested or recovered from the virus pose no greater danger than vaccinated people, to impose such restrictions on the unvaccinated “would be a violation of their basic rights”.
Rolf Mutzenich, head of the centre-left Social Democrats’ parliamentary group, said politicians should be focusing more on getting willing citizens vaccinated rather than penalising the unvaccinated.
“We’re not going to sustainably change the vaccination behaviour of individuals with threats,” he told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.