‘We need to be faster than the virus’, Germany’s new chancellor warns in New Year’s Eve address

Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned in his New Year Eve’s address that his country had to move more quickly in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and that more people need to get vaccinated.

In his first televised end of year address to the nation after taking office 23 days ago, Scholz gave the same sort of sombre speech, filled with vague promises, that his conservative predecessor Angela Merkel did in each of the last 16 years.

Scholz, who heads a three-way centre-left coalition made up of his Social Democrats along with the pro-environment Greens part and the pro-business Free Democrats, focused much of his first speech on the pandemic and the more than 10 million Germans who have declined to get vaccinated. They have left the country not only badly divided but exposed to a frighteningly sharp increase in infections and death rates over the last two months.

“Let’s together do everything – and I mean really everything – so that we can finally defeat corona in the new year,” Scholz said in the address, released on Friday ahead of the prime-time broadcast.

The pandemic and his government’s sluggish response to the latest surge has overshadowed the start of Scholz’s tenure leading Europe’s powerhouse economy. Shortages of vaccines, poor data on infections and increasingly aggressive protests by anti-vaxxers have darkened the outlook over the last month.

Vaccines are “the path out of the pandemic,” said Scholz, adding he disagreed with those who said the vaccine question was dividing the nation. “Now it’s all about speed. We need to be faster than the virus.”

He tried to assure those Germans determined to resist getting the protective shots by noting that more than four billion people worldwide have been inoculated without any serious side effects.  Only about 71 per cent of Germans have been vaccinated and Scholz said he hoped that could be raised to 80 per cent by the end of January as part of a campaign to give a total of 30 million shots next month – including boosters for millions as well.

“I promise you that we will react quickly and decisively,” he said.

Even though the Center for Disease Control in the United States earlier this week shortened the recommend time for isolation for people who are asymptomatic or whose infections are mild from 10 to five days and countries across Europe such as the UK, Ireland, Portugal and Greece followed suit, Germany is sticking to a 14-day isolation period, even if people are fully vaccinated, that in some cases can extend to as many as 18 days because health offices were shut during the Christmas holidays.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that the government would discuss the issue with state leaders on January 7.

In his speech, Scholz also promised that Germany would use its presidency of the Group of Seven rich industrial nations beginning on Saturday to become a leader for the world in 2022 in the fight against climate change.

“As a modern industrial country, we will reach our climate targets,” he said, although adding that no country could on its own accomplish very much. “We will use our presidency so that this group of states becomes a trailblazer — a trailblazer for climate-neutral economic activity and a fair world,” he said.

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