Germany’s health minister under fire over fundraising dinner

Jens Spahn attended event after urging people to stay at home, then tested positive

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn: Hours after returning from the Leipzig dinner in October, he felt unwell and tested positive for Covid-19.  Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn: Hours after returning from the Leipzig dinner in October, he felt unwell and tested positive for Covid-19. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke

 

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn is facing his own personal Golfgate after he admitted attending a political fundraising dinner last October, hours after urging Germans to remain home to contain the spread of Covid-19.

A friend of the minister organised the dinner in the eastern city of Leipzig, according to Der Spiegel magazine, where a dozen business leaders in attendance were asked to contribute to his 2021 re-election campaign.

Hours before the gathering, Mr Spahn told German television viewers: “We know where the main infection points are, namely parties, being sociable at home, in private or at events like a party in a club.”

Hours after returning from the Leipzig dinner, a 400km round trip from Berlin, Mr Spahn felt unwell and tested positive for Covid-19. All other guests tested negative for the virus and Mr Spahn insisted the gathering met all relevant health rules at the time.

“I would have regretted deeply infecting someone unknowingly,” said Mr Spahn, a member of chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on Sunday. “That appears not to have happened because of the precautionary measures.”

Wave of criticism

News of the dinner party has prompted a wave of criticism – and whispers of other gatherings attended by Mr Spahn where he may have contracted the virus.

For the CDU’s coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a health minister with time for fundraising dinners in a pandemic was “clearly not working to capacity”.

“Fundraising dinners, whether with social distance and masks or not . . . throw up more than just questions about his schedule priorities,”said Carsten Schneider, SPD Bundestag floor leader.

Britta Hasselmann, his Green Party counterpart, said: “Jens Spahn seems to have lost his political instinct.”

The Spiegel story ended a bruising week for Mr Spahn, an ambitious 40-year-old who hopes to lead the CDU. Last Monday he hoped to start a new push to control the virus spread with a flood of subsidised self-tests.

Mortgage questions

That came to nothing when Dr Merkel said too many questions remained unclear. She told him to postpone the launch until after she meets state leaders this week, adding pressure to a minister already under fire for Germany’s slow vaccine rollout.

Other questions have arisen over Mr Spahn’s affairs besides the fundraising dinner. He has declined to answer questions about a series of mortgages provided by a bank for which he was once a board member.

The most expensive property, a multimillion-euro villa in a leafy Berlin district, was owned previously by a man the health minister employed later to head a digitalisation push in Germany’s health sector.

Lawyers for Mr Spahn dispute any claims of impropriety but have secured an injunction against several media outlets, preventing them from naming the purchase price of the villa.

Although criticism from CDU allies was muted on Sunday, Mr Spahn appears to have been sidelined in the campaign to defend the chancellery after Dr Merkel’s departure in the autumn.