Olaf Scholz, who is designated to replace Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor next week, wants to see Covid vaccinations become mandatory, possibly by the end of February, he said in news media interviews on Tuesday.
While Mr. Scholz and other mainstream politicians in Germany have long dismissed the idea of forcing people to take the shot, he told the tabloid newspaper Bild that the country’s high infection rates warranted the move.
“You can’t callously watch the situation as it is right now,” he was quoted as saying. “If we had a higher vaccination rate, we would have a different situation.”
Mr. Scholz said that he would free lawmakers in his coalition from having to vote with their parties when a bill on the question came to the German Parliament, allowing them to vote their conscience on such an important issue.
On Tuesday, the country’s highest court ruled that the government had acted in accordance with the Constitution when ordering lockdowns and school closures earlier this year. The ruling that was seen as instrumental in allowing the government to impose more restrictions on public life as it tries to battle a surge in case.
As Europe confronts a sharp rise in coronavirus, Austria last month became the first European nation, and the first Western democracy, to require Covid vaccinations for all adults. Although recent polls have shown Germans coming around to the idea of a national vaccine mandate, in a poll in late October, 65 percent of unvaccinated respondents said that they would not get the shots under any circumstances.
Germany is registering a daily average of nearly 60,000 new reported cases, a 42 percent increase over two weeks ago, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Almost 300 people a day are dying of the disease, a 54 percent increase from two weeks ago.
More than 68 percent of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated, higher than the European Union average, but lower than some major European nations like France, Britain and Spain, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. New laws restricting access to public transportation and other venues for unvaccinated people has drawn more to get shots — last week, nearly 900,000 doses were administered in a single day, the most since July.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr. Scholz had agreed on Tuesday that under a new national vaccine drive, 30 million additional doses would be administered by Christmas.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their vaccine for younger children would be delivered to European Union customers starting on Dec. 13. The E.U. drug regulator approved the lower-dose vaccine last week for use in children ages 5 to 11.