Merkel’s Embattled Heir Fights Back With Plan to Beat Covid
(Bloomberg) -- Armin Laschet is pushing measures to slow a renewed spread of the coronavirus in Germany and bolster his image as a crisis manager as his campaign to succeed Angela Merkel falters.
With less than seven weeks before the national election and his poll numbers slipping, Laschet will call for more obligatory tests for unvaccinated people at a meeting between Merkel and state leaders later on Tuesday.
The plan is aimed at protecting privileges for people who have been immunized against Covid-19, while providing greater incentives to get the shots and avoiding another lockdown that would put renewed strain on Europe’s biggest economy.
“The coronavirus is no less dangerous now, and non-vaccinated people could push our health system to the limits of its capacity,” Laschet said Tuesday in a statement to the parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, where he is the state premier.
He outlined a set of five proposals that he said are designed to “break the fourth wave”: expanding compulsory testing, incentives for getting vaccinated, a concerted campaign to increase inoculations, improved analysis of the pandemic that isn’t focused so much on the incidence rate and an extension of special federal powers beyond next month when they’re due to expire.
Although still the election front-runner, Laschet -- the chairman of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union -- is under pressure to regain the initiative after a rocky several weeks hit the conservative bloc’s support. Its lead over the Greens has shrunk to as little as two percentage points in one survey.
At the same time, Germany’s vaccine drive has been losing steam. As of Sunday, about 55% of the population was fully vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. That compares with almost 58% in France and nearly 62% in Spain.
Under Laschet’s plan, the government would stop free testing in October. By that time, everyone who wanted to be inoculated would have had the opportunity, according to the proposal, which is supported by other CDU leaders, including Health Minister Jens Spahn.
“It’s clear that everyone is free to decide whether they get vaccinated,” Laschet said. “But it’s just as clear that decisions always have consequences,” he added. “In eight weeks, from the start of October, every test must be paid for.”
The initiative may encounter resistance, as a number of SPD state leaders oppose the end of free testing. A failure of Laschet’s push would be another blow and raise fresh doubts about his leadership abilities after a series of blunders.
Last Wednesday, the 60-year-old postponed the official start of his campaign to deal with the aftermath of floods that hit his region last month. He was pilloried for chuckling on camera amid the wreckage. While he later apologized, the incident sparked a slide in the polls.
Merkel and state officials are also expected to discuss the cost of the flooding damage at the meeting. Germany’s federal and regional governments are looking to allocate 30 billion euros ($35 billion) to help pay for reconstruction from the disaster, according to a person familiar with the plan.
Merkel’s conservatives are determined to avoid another lockdown, which could cost the German economy about 10 billion euros, according to an estimate from the Cologne-based IW economic institute.
To keep businesses running, the party will focus on speeding up vaccinations, obligatory testing and enforcing distancing and hygiene rules, Paul Ziemiak, the CDU’s general secretary, said Monday.
“Vaccinated people shouldn’t have any disadvantages because others are too lazy to get inoculated,” Ziemiak said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.