Mayor of German city of Halle suspended for skipping vaccine queue

A German mayor was suspended by his own city council after it emerged he had received a coronavirus vaccination in January, despite not being in a priority group.

Mayor of German city of Halle suspended for skipping vaccine queue
Bernd Wiegand in February during a city council meeting. Photo: DPA/Hendrik Schmidt

An overwhelming majority of 34 councillors voted late Wednesday to temporarily suspend Bernd Wiegand, mayor of the central city of Halle.

Wiegand, 64, had previously admitted to receiving the vaccine in January, at a time when it was still only available to older citizens.

READ ALSO: When will I be in line for a Covid-19 vaccination in Germany?

Other city employees and several councillors also reportedly received a jab before their turn.

The mayor denied that he had acted illegally or immorally, however, saying he had been offered the jab in order to avoid excess doses going to waste.

“It’s easy to criticise my decision in hindsight… but it was not unlawful in any way,” he said in a statement in March, suggesting that the scandal was being exploited to “remove a nonpartisan mayor from office”.

Yet his explanations have also varied over time, with Wiegand at one point erroneously claiming that he had been selected at random to receive the excess dose.

The mayor must now await the results of a disciplinary procedure and an investigation by local prosecutors, though he could yet appeal his suspension at an administrative court.

After raiding Wiegand’s offices in February, prosecutors said he was suspected of “misappropriating some of the vaccine doses available to the city since December 2020”, but stressed the presumption of innocence.

Germany’s vaccination rollout has been slower than expected amid supply issues across the EU, with 13 percent of the population currently having received at least one dose.

Wiegand is also not the only German politician embroiled in a pandemic-related scandal.

Several MPs from Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance have been forced to step down in recent weeks over allegations of corruption in the procurement of protective masks.

The graft scandal has hit Merkel’s party in the polls, with the conservatives slumping to record lows of just over 25 percent six months before September’s general election.

READ ALSO: Suspect arrested in Germany’s ‘face mask scandal’

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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”