German soldiers face vaccine mandate as COVID cases rise

Coronavirus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel adjusts her face mask to protect against the coronavirus during her visit at the TUMO education center for creative technologies in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool)

BERLIN (AP) — The German military is making coronavirus shots compulsory for troops amid a growing debate in the country about whether to introduce a general vaccine mandate to counter rising infection and hospitalization rates.

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday confirmed a report in the German military blog Augen Geradeaus that officials and soldiers’ representatives agreed late Monday to add the coronavirus shot to the list of vaccines soldiers must get. The measure still needs to be formally added to military regulations, the ministry said in a statement.

There were 1,215 reported active coronavirus cases as of Monday within the military and the ministry’s civilian staff. Two soldiers have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The nationwide tally of newly confirmed cases rose by 45,326 in the past 24 hours, the country’s disease control agency said Tuesday. A further 309 deaths from COVID-19 were also reported, taking the total toll since the start of the outbreak to 99,433.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department urged Americans not to travel to Germany because of rising case numbers, and to ensure they are fully vaccinated if they do.

Some German states have tightened rules for unvaccinated people in recent days and urged people who haven’t done so yet to get the shot.

But a sizeable minority has resisted calls to do so, prompting a stark warning from the country’s health minister about the consequences of not getting vaccinated.

“By the end of this winter pretty much everyone in Germany (…) will have been vaccinated, recovered or died,” health minister Jens Spahn said Monday.

About 68% of Germany’s population of 83 million has been fully vaccinated, far below the minimum threshold of 75% that the government is aiming for.

An association representing doctors in Berlin said Tuesday that coronavirus vaccines should be made compulsory for all — a step already taken in neighboring Austria.

“The time has come for a vaccine mandate,” KV Berlin said in a statement, adding that unvaccinated people should also be made to pay part of the cost of their treatment if they fall ill with COVID-19.

Some politicians in Germany, including the conservative state governors of Bavaria and Hesse, have backed the idea of compulsory vaccinations. But a spokesman for outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear Monday that she will leave that thorny issue to the next federal government.

In a rare interview, Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, expressed surprise and upset that so many people remained opposed to the vaccine in Germany, blaming it on German “laziness” and anti-vaccine ideology that crosses all levels of education.

Speaking to Italian daily La Repubblica, the 72-year-old chemist said it was “amazing that a third of the German population doesn’t pay attention to science.”

Asked how that could be explained, Sauer reportedly replied: “In part by a certain laziness and complacency among the German people.”

“There has probably always been this attitude among some people, but it has never been so evident as in this period,” La Repubblica quoted him as saying Tuesday. “And yet it’s precisely now that we’re living the great success of science.”

Sauer was in Turin to receive a diploma as a new member of the Academy of Sciences.

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