Scholz’s party wants vaccine mandate decision this quarter

A medical student prepares a syringe with vaccination against the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease inside Klunkerkranich Restaurant and night club during an ongoing vaccination campaign of the Clubkommission in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach renewed an appeal for vaccine holdouts to reconsider. He said people who remain unvaccinated in Germany can’t expect contact restrictions for them to be lifted “in the short- or medium-term.” The Clubcommission Berlin, an association that protects and supports the Berlin club culture. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s biggest governing party said Thursday that it aims for a final decision by the end of March on the introduction of a universal vaccine mandate against COVID-19.

Parliament last month approved legislation that will require staff at hospitals and nursing homes to show that they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus by mid-March. Progress toward a more contentious universal vaccine mandate is proving slower.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has backed such a mandate, but wants to have lawmakers vote according to their personal conscience rather than on party lines. The idea is for parliament to vote on proposals drawn up by groups of lawmakers rather than by the government.

There are divisions on whether a universal mandate is desirable within Scholz’s three-party government, notably in the ranks of the Free Democrats, the smallest coalition partner. And it isn’t yet clear how the mandate would be designed.

Two senior lawmakers with Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats, Dagmar Schmidt and Dirk Wiese, said in a statement Thursday that “we aim to conclude the legislative process in the first quarter of this year,” news agency dpa reported.

They argued that a broad discussion on the issue is necessary “so we will take sufficient time for this,” and advocated an initial debate in parliament this month.

The leader of the center-right opposition Union bloc’s parliamentary group, Ralph Brinkhaus, said the government itself should draw up proposals. He told ARD television that the shape of a universal vaccine mandate is a “leadership decision” and Scholz “can’t delegate this to parliament now.”

The Free Democrats’ leader, Finance Minister Christian Lindner, flatly rejected the idea of changing the approach. He said that deciding on the matter in a free vote is “a contribution to the reconciliation of society as a whole.”

Neighboring Austria has drawn up draft legislation to introduce a universal vaccine mandate, which the government hopes will take effect next month.

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