Germany to Extend Curbs Amid Criticism Over Vaccine Rollout

Germany is poised to extend stricter lockdown measures beyond Jan. 10 amid criticism over alleged failures in the government’s fledgling vaccination program.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is consulting with regional officials and health experts on Monday and Tuesday to decide on prolonging the restrictions, which include closing schools and non-essential stores. She will announce the outcome of the talks at a news conference likely sometime on Tuesday afternoon in Berlin.

Authorities have agreed to extend the curbs until Jan. 31, Bild newspaper reported, without identifying the source of the information.

“The latest numbers in no way allow for us to sound the all-clear,” Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Monday at a regular news conference. “The chancellor will stick very strongly to her existing position, and will argue for measures that really allow us to get new infections down to a manageable level as quickly as possible.”

While there is a broad consensus that it’s too early to ease up, accusations that Germany has bungled its vaccine rollout have intensified in recent days. A top official from the junior partner in Merkel’s ruling coalition criticized Health Minister Jens Spahn for what he said were unacceptable delays in distributing a vaccine jointly developed by Germany’s BioNTech SE.

Germany to Extend Curbs Amid Criticism Over Vaccine Rollout

Europe has become an epicenter of the pandemic since cases began ticking up again in October, with more than 400,000 coronavirus-related deaths and 17.3 million infections. That’s prompted governments across the region to consider sharpening restrictions on movement and contact.

Longer Lockdowns

Authorities from across Europe are extending and tightening curbs. Here are the highlights:

  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday England’s schools may need to stay closed for longer than currently planned and warned tougher restrictions are probably on the way
  • In France, where the government is also facing criticism over the pace of its vaccination campaign, officials will push back the reopening of restaurants planned for Jan. 20, RTL radio reported Monday
  • Italy will face a third wave of the virus unless it extends curbs on movement, Walter Ricciardi, a member of the executive board at the World Health Organization and an adviser to Italy’s Health Minister, told La Stampa Monday. The newspaper said the government is considering additional lockdown measures through Jan. 15
  • Greece’s national lockdown scheduled to end on Jan. 7 has been extended to Jan. 11. Sectors that reopened for the holiday period, such as hairdressers and click-and-collect services, will close again for a week
  • Austrian shops, schools and services will now remain shuttered until at least Jan. 24 instead of Jan. 18, the APA newswire reported, citing government officials
  • Ireland may need to extend its lockdown beyond the planned review date of end January, as cases soar, Deputy Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has indicated. School reopening has been delayed

Germany’s daily tally of virus cases and deaths reached record numbers last week, before falling back over the New Year. Those lower numbers may not reflect an accurate snapshot of the pandemic as there was less testing and reporting over the holiday period, health authorities said.

Germany and the EU began vaccinations on Dec. 27 using the BioNTech shot the company jointly developed with Pfizer Inc. Officials have said it will take months for it to have a tangible impact on the spread of the virus.

According to the latest data from the RKI public health institute, 265,986 people had been immunized in Germany through midday Monday, just over 0.3% of the population. That compares with 1.3% in the U.S. and 1.4% in Britain, which both began vaccinating several weeks earlier.

The Bild tabloid, Germany’s biggest-selling daily, has blamed Merkel personally for an apparent shortage of doses. The chancellor pushed for a coordinated EU strategy rather than a national one, which led to a lack of BioNTech shots, the paper said.

Spahn has defended Germany’s decision to buy and distribute vaccines simultaneously among EU members, saying it was fairer for the smaller countries that wouldn’t have been able to negotiate on equal terms with manufacturers.

Seibert said the government stands by the joint EU strategy, while acknowledging that the program “isn’t perfect” and that it’s a “learning process.”

“There is enough vaccine for Germany and it would not have made any difference if we had ordered it ourselves,” said Hanno Kautz, a Health Ministry spokesman. “The problem is not the amount ordered but production capacity, that we don’t have enough vaccine available.”

Germany has delivered 1.3 million doses to the federal states and expects to increase that to 11 million by the end of the first quarter, Kautz said.

Lars Klingbeil, the general secretary of the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in Merkel’s coalition, said Monday that the start of the immunization campaign has been “chaotic.” Spahn has failed to either secure sufficient doses or effectively coordinate with Germany’s federal states, Klingbeil told ARD.

He urged Merkel and Spahn to convene a meeting with pharma executives to discuss ways of ramping up production, including with BioNTech.

“We’re in a much worse position than other countries,” Klingbeil said. “It can’t be that the country where the vaccine is created has too few doses.”

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