Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff warned that if COVID-19 infection statistics rise to new levels in the coming months, restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary.

If Germany is hit by a significant fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, unvaccinated people may be banned from restaurants and movies.

Helge Braun, minister for special affairs and head of the Chancellery said the limits may be essential in the future “because the residual risk is too high.”

“If we got such a high fourth wave, it would not remain without effects,” he said. “The sickness rate would reach historic highs. All unvaccinated contact persons of the many infected people would first have to be quarantined. The effects on the work processes in the companies would be massive. We are already seeing that in the UK.”

Braun stated vaccination is crucial to protect against serious disease and because “vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people.” Such policies, he claimed, would be legitimate because “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens.”

His remarks sparked a debate in German politics regarding the possibility of mandatory vaccinations. Even within Merkel’s own Christian Democrats, the topic has caused division. Armin Laschet, the party’s candidate to succeed Merkel as Germany’s Chancellor, has stated that he opposes any formal or informal vaccination obligations for the time being.

“I don’t believe in compulsory vaccinations and I don’t believe we should put indirect pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told the German broadcaster ZDF on Sunday. “In a free country there are rights to freedom, not just for specific groups.”

However, social distancing and mask regulations would still be necessary. If the number of cases increased, unvaccinated people would have to reduce their contacts,” he noted. Braun added that “this can also mean that certain offers such as restaurant, cinema and stadium visits would no longer be possible.”

In an interview with the daily Bild am Sonntag, he warned that cases were increasing by 60% per week and that by the end of September, the country may be seeing 100,000 new infections each day. Nearly 61 percent of Germans have received at least one vaccine dose, with more than 49 percent having received all vaccines.

With the highly transmissible delta variant spreading throughout Germany, politicians have argued whether mandatory vaccinations for specific professions, such as medical workers, should be considered. However, such requirements have not yet been implemented.

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