Germany is to lift restrictions on people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 as early as this week, in a move that some critics say discriminates against younger people who are still months away from getting the jab.
The bill was approved on Monday by Germany’s “corona cabinet”, which is chaired by the chancellor, Angela Merkel. It says people who have been inoculated against Covid-19 or have recovered from the disease will no longer be subject to curfews or restrictions on social gatherings.
The legislation was authored by justice minister Christine Lambrecht, who argued that since such people no longer presented a health risk to others, the curbs on their fundamental rights must be lifted. Ministers hope it will be passed by the German parliament as early as this week.
The move comes against a backdrop of mounting frustration in Germany at tough coronavirus controls that are now entering their sixth month. Civil liberties advocates were particularly alarmed by a new law passed last month that granted sweeping powers to the central government to impose curfews and other restrictions in areas with a high incidence of coronavirus. Some campaigners and MPs have argued it violates Germany’s constitution and are challenging it in the country’s supreme court.
There is also anger at the slow pace of vaccinations, although it has quickened in recent days. Almost 23.5m people have received at least one dose of vaccine in Germany, and of these, 6.66m are fully inoculated. But that represents just 8 per cent of the population, compared with 55.8 per cent in Israel, 23 per cent in the UK and 32 per cent in the US.
The German bill echoes moves elsewhere in Europe. In Denmark, people who can show on their “coronapas” that they have been inoculated, or have had a negative PCR test result within the last 72 hours, or have had a previous infection, can visit restaurants, bars, cafés, museums, art galleries, libraries, zoos and theme parks.
French authorities are working to create a so-called “passe sanitaire”, which would allow people to travel internationally as long as they have been vaccinated or can show a negative Covid-19 test. President Emmanuel Macron has said that people would not have to show such a pass to go to restaurants, bars or stores, but that they could be required this summer at large-scale events such as concerts, festivals or conferences.
The Lambrecht bill says people who have received the Covid-19 jab or recovered from the disease can enter shops or hair salons, and visit zoos or botanical gardens, without having to show a negative test result. They can also meet up with other vaccinated people and family members.
In addition, people who have received a Covid-19 shot will no longer have to go into quarantine after trips abroad unless they are returning from countries where a virus mutation is prevalent.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said it was not about granting privileges to those who had received the shot but “giving them relief and waivers . . . from certain restrictions, as is due to them under their constitutional rights”.
Up to now in Germany, the vaccine has largely been given to the elderly, as well as frontline workers and the chronically ill. So there is concern that it is mainly the older generation who will be in a position to benefit from the lifting of restrictions.
Tilman Kuban, head of the Christian Democrats’ youth wing, the Young Union, said the bill should be expanded to cover all those who have tested negative for coronavirus.
“We shouldn’t be sending a signal that a certain part of society is allowed to travel again and live normally while others have to stick it out for months to come,” he told Die Welt newspaper.
One senior Christian Democrat, Daniel Günther, echoed that sentiment. “Only 25 per cent of the population have had their first jab, and even fewer have had both,” said Günther, who is governor of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. In such a situation, “restoring rights to people just leads to new injustices”.
Additional reporting by Leila Abboud