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Christian Lindner, Germany's finance minister, swears an oath after being elected at the Bundestag in Berlin on Dec. 8, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz.
Christian Lindner, Germany's finance minister, swears an oath after being elected at the Bundestag in Berlin on Dec. 8, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz. (Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz)

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Germany can avoid a sweeping lockdown even if the omicron strain of Covid-19 fuels a “drastic increase” in infections in coming weeks, according to Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

Speaking ahead of Friday’s talks over the next steps in the government’s pandemic strategy, Lindner said that Germany can tackle the virus and prevent overloading the health system with “reasonable” measures that avoid closing businesses and schools.

He hinted that Chancellor Olaf Scholz and regional leaders will agree on both shorter isolation times to avert staff shortages in critical services as well as curbs on social contact. He said that accelerating the vaccine and booster campaign will help keep Covid at bay.

“We are facing a new challenge with omicron,” Lindner said at an event for his Free Democratic party in Stuttgart. As a result, “there are changes in quarantine rules, and we’ll have to maintain more distance in our daily lives.”

Germany’s Covid infections have been rising rapidly in recent days, though the country has yet to experience the dramatic, omicron-fueled surge seen in countries like Britain, France and Ireland.

Europe’s biggest economy is already in what some officials have termed a “lockdown of the unvaccinated,” with limits on access to non-essential stores, restaurants and theaters. There are also hygiene rules and restrictions on the size of public gatherings that apply to all citizens.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned Thursday that omicron could persist longer than expected and even be replaced by other variants that are just as contagious but even more dangerous. Some form of mandatory vaccination is the best protection, he added.

“Compulsory inoculation would be the most important step, because then I can very quickly immunize the population from such a serious threat,” Lauterbach said in an interview with Welt TV.

Germany’s Bundestag is expected in coming weeks to start debating the introduction of a vaccine mandate, and officials have said it could take effect from around March.

Meanwhile, protests against the government’s pandemic strategy have intensified across Germany in recent days, with some demonstrations turning violent.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann -- a member of Lindner’s FDP party -- said Thursday that the government will respect the right to demonstrate peacefully -- including expressing opposition to vaccination -- while warning that authorities will crack down on those who resort to violence.

“Absurd opinions must also be allowed to be expressed,” Buschmann said in an interview with ntv. “But there is a very clear red line and a very clear limit,” he added. “If there is violence that cannot be accepted, and if there is a call to violence that cannot be accepted.”


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