Angela Merkel’s husband has accused unvaccinated Germans of “laziness”, amid calls for the introduction of mandatory coronavirus jabs to combat a dramatic rise in infections.
Germany’s Covid-19 resurgence has in part been blamed on its vaccination rate of 68%, which is relatively low compared with western European nations such as France, Italy and Spain.
“It is astonishing that a third of the population does not follow scientific findings,” Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, said in an interview with Italian newspaper la Repubblica and picked up by German daily Die Welt.
“In part, this is due to a certain laziness and complacency of Germans,” said Sauer, who seldom speaks in public.
“The other group are people who follow a personal conviction, a kind of ideological reaction to what they consider a vaccination dictatorship,” Sauer said, a cohort he said also included some doctors and scientists.
Like his wife, Sauer is a quantum chemist, and he was in Italy on an academic visit.
Sauer’s comments came a day after Merkel warned that Germany was not doing enough to contain the “highly dramatic” fourth wave of the pandemic.
The outgoing chancellor, who is acting in a caretaker capacity and will probably be replaced by the finance minister Olaf Scholz next month, has repeatedly urged Germans to get vaccinated.
The sluggish vaccine uptake and rapidly filling intensive care beds have ignited a fierce debate about whether Germany should follow neighbouring Austria’s example and make coronavirus jabs compulsory.
Although Merkel’s federal government has always ruled out doing so, the mood has started to shift in recent days, particularly in Germany’s hardest-hit regions.
Germany last week announced tougher Covid curbs, including requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, cured or have recently tested negative for the virus before they can travel on public transport or go into the workplace.
Several of Germany’s 16 states have gone further still, cancelling large events such as Christmas markets and barring the unvaccinated from bars, gyms and leisure facilities.
The Bavarian premier, Markus Söder, from Merkel’s conservative camp, and his Baden-Württemberg counterpart Winfried Kretschmann, from the Green party, issued a joint plea for mandatory jabs in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
Society will “pay an ever higher price for a small part of the population” rejecting the vaccine offer, they warned, stressing that mandatory jabs were necessary “to give us back our freedoms”.
Kretschmann said the idea was not to forcefully inject people, but those who refused to be vaccinated could face fines or be excluded from certain parts of public life if they didn’t comply with a vaccine mandate.
Hessen premier, Volker Bouffier, whose state is home to the city of Mainz where the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was co-developed, also came out in favour of compulsory Covid-19 jabs, as did the leaders of Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein.
Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union, which is gearing up for a stint in opposition, urged the incoming Scholz-led coalition government to tell the German public where they stood on the issue.
In one novel attempt to entice Germans to get jabbed, a foundation in Frankfurt invited more than 200 homeless people to turn up for free curry sausages – and get inoculated at the same time.
And in the northern city of Hanover, officials said they would give away 1,000 tickets to the second division football match between Hannover 96 and Dynamo Dresden on 23 January to those getting their first or booster jab in coming days.
Germany’s weekly incidence rate stood at 399.8 new coronavirus infections in every 100,000 people on Tuesday, an all-time high, according to the Robert Koch Institute.