Germany cautious about re-opening as England prepares to lift COVID-19 curbs

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German officials said on Tuesday coronavirus measures should be maintained until more of the population has been vaccinated, and one called England’s plan to lift most restrictions despite the spread of the Delta variant “a highly risky experiment”.

England will become from July 19 the first part of the United Kingdom to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to socially distance.

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German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said coronavirus restrictions were still necessary to avoid a further lockdown of the economy.

“We would all be well advised to take the necessary safety measures,” Altmaier told Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday, adding he was concerned about easing discipline around social distancing and mask-wearing.

Germany reported 646 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, up from 440 a week ago, with an uptick in the number of cases per 100,000 people over seven days to 6.4 from 4.9.

A move by France to make vaccinations compulsory for all healthcare workers spurred debate in Germany over whether people in some professions should be forced to get a shot.

Alena Buyx, the head of the German Ethics Council, said compulsory vaccinations were not necessary in Germany.

People enjoy sunbathing amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the Baltic Sea resort Eckernfoerde, Germany May 9, 2021. (Reuters)
People enjoy sunbathing amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the Baltic Sea resort Eckernfoerde, Germany May 9, 2021. (Reuters)

“We have much better vaccination rates among healthcare staff than France,” she told broadcaster ZDF. “I believe that we do not need to consider this.”

‘Freedom Day’

But she added that restrictions should not be eased as long as not even half the population is fully vaccinated, describing England’s move to lift nearly all remaining coronavirus restrictions as a “highly risky experiment”.

The United Kingdom is ahead of most other countries with its vaccination campaign, having now administered two shots to about two thirds of its adult population. Germany has fully vaccinated 43 percent of its total population.

However, in Britain too, July 19, once billed as “freedom day”, is now being treated with wariness by ministers after a new surge in cases and fears that there could be as many as 100,000 new infections a day over the summer.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte conceded on Monday that coronavirus restrictions had been lifted too soon in the Netherlands, which borders Germany, and he apologised as infections surged to their highest levels of the year.

Markus Soeder, premier of the southern German state of Bavaria, called for another push to vaccinate as many people as possible, especially younger people aged 12 to 30, for instance with “vaccinations to go” or drive-in vaccination options.

“Nothing but vaccinations will help,” he told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

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