The Irish Times view on Covid-19 in Germany: The fourth wave

Fear of making timely decisions has spread like virus through German domestic politics

Exactly a year ago, Germany's BioNTech announced it had developed the world's first Covid-19 vaccine (and later partnered with Pfizer to scale up trials, production and distribution). A year after that breakthrough, however, Germany is bringing up the rear in western Europe on vaccinations and booster jabs against breakthrough infections.

On Friday Germany broke a record with 37,000 new cases in 24 hours. Though nearly a quarter of adults over 18 remain unvaccinated, there is no co-ordinated plan – and little debate – over how to deal with those who continue to refuse a jab. From today, the eastern state of Saxony will push forward and exclude unvaccinated people from restaurants, sports venues and cinemas.

In neighbouring Thuringia, Germany's biggest Covid-19 hotspot, state premier Bodo Ramelow warned that state hospitals may prioritise intensive care beds for vaccinated patients, with unvaccinated patients transferred out of state for hospital care. His proposal sparked howls of outrage, but has forced debate on how this fourth wave is less a medical or logistical challenge than a crisis of ethics and of political decision-making.

Hospital Report

Faced with conflict

In common with other European countries, Germany is faced with the conflict between the absolute right of the individual not to be vaccinated and, in a pandemic, the obligation to do all that is possible to protect a wider society that includes older people, the chronically ill and those with compromised immune systems.


There is a terrible irony that this fourth pandemic wave will dominate Angela Merkel’s last weeks as chancellor. Among her many achievements in the past 16 years has been one consistent weak-spot: prevarication. Her fear of making timely decisions has spread like a virus through German domestic politics, where 16 federal states – each with its own health ministry – have struggled to co-ordinate their response to an invisible enemy that knows no borders. Covid’s fourth wave has exposed just how Merkelised German politics is. When no decision is the political default option, the cost can be considerable.