Angela Merkel promises widespread vaccine availability before September vote
Chancellor Angela Merkel promised widespread availability of coronavirus vaccines by late September, shortly before voters elect her successor.
Amid efforts to boost vaccine supply, Merkel said all Germans who want a shot will get one by the end of the summer on September 21. National elections take place on September 26.
Her conservative bloc is still grappling with who should run for chancellor, wary of the difficulties the candidate would have stepping out of her shadow as she runs the country.
The choice is between Armin Laschet -- the newly elected head of Merkel’s Christian Democratic party -- and Markus Soeder from the smaller Bavarian CSU sister party. Merkel on Tuesday reaffirmed her intention to not seek political office after 16 years leading Europe’s largest economy. While the CDU/CSU is well ahead in the polls, it faces challenges from the Greens and the Social Democrats.
Merkel dismissed suggestions that the election would be influenced by her handling of the pandemic.
Ahead of a virtual meeting with European Union counterparts later on Thursday, the German leader called on the bloc to find common ground to beat the pandemic.
“The EU is one area” in the fight against the disease, she said. “There is still some time to prevent virus mutations from spreading.”
The EU will seek ways to speed up vaccination programs. Merkel said intensive talks are under way with vaccine makers like Pfizer Inc. to accelerate production.
The bloc will also consider special privileges for people who have been inoculated and look into whether to apply travel restrictions. Merkel said some border controls might be needed with neighbors, including Switzerland, in case there is no coordinated response.
Merkel said Germany will be very cautious about easing restrictions to guard against a renewed spike from fast-spreading strains like in Britain and Ireland.
Schools and daycare facilities would be the first priority when authorities do start to roll back curbs, the German leader said in Berlin on Thursday. A broader opening of shops and hairdressers would likely follow.
“Any opening strategy must be approached very carefully because of the mutated virus,” she said, two days after extending a lockdown to February 14.
While contagion rates in Europe’s largest economy have declined to the lowest since early November, levels remain more than double a government target. Merkel said infections need to fall below 50 per 100,000 people over seven days to consider looser curbs. The current level is 119.
Helge Braun, Merkel’s chief of staff, was cautiously optimistic that the government’s target could be reached in the next three to four weeks, as long as more aggressive variants are held at bay.
“Although everyone is tired of the coronavirus, we have to remain very resolute in coming weeks,” he said in an interview with ARD television. “Then we have a fantastic chance that things will improve step by step and we will beat the virus.”
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