Olaf Scholz used his first New Year’s speech as chancellor to drive an ambitious effort to deliver 30 million doses of Covid-19 amplifier shots by the end of January, while Germany prepares for a boom in cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
In his speech, which was released to the media on Friday night, Scholz urged Germans to get their booster shots “as soon as possible”. “Speed is what matters now,” he added. “We need to move faster than the virus.”
Germany, he said, had already inflicted more than 30 million stab wounds since mid-November – “probably more than in any other EU country” and would aim to deliver the same number again by the end of January.
He also called on the millions of unvaccinated Germans to be stabbed. Only 71 percent of Germans are fully vaccinated, a much lower percentage than in some other European countries such as Spain and Portugal, and authorities are struggling to convince a hard core of anti-vaccine interviews.
While Scholz acknowledges that some people are concerned that they could suffer “negative effects” from vaccination, Scholz stressed that nearly 4 billion people around the world have been vaccinated – “without major side effects”. “And countless vaccinated people have become parents of healthy babies,” he added.
Scholz’s speech is a turning point for Germany. For the past 16 years, Germans at New Year’s have been addressed by Angela Merkel. But she retired after national elections in September, ushering in a new era in German politics.
The election was narrowly won by Scholz’s Social Democrats, who formed an unprecedented three-way coalition with the Greens and Liberals, which transferred Merkel’s center-right CDU / CSU to the opposition benches for only the third time in its history.
Scholz made a reference to the change in his typically understated way. “Today we say goodbye to a year that has brought about a myriad of changes,” he said. “One small change is that today I am the one who will speak to you as your Federal Chancellor on New Year’s Eve.”
Scholz came to power with a daring plan to make the German economy greener and improve social justice, but the pandemic overshadowed his first few weeks in office. Meanwhile, violent protests by anti-vaxxers and opponents of the corona restrictions often continue to shake German cities.
And while there has not been the same massive increase in Omicron infections seen in countries like the UK and France, Germany’s numbers are ticking upwards. Official data showed that there were 41,240 new coronavirus infections on Friday, compared to 35,431 a week ago.
But experts say the sharp drop in testing over Christmas means the actual numbers could be much worse.
Germany has introduced strict new contact restrictions to curb the spread of Omicron, which places a limit on the number of people who can attend social gatherings. “Tonight we will have to do without big New Year’s Eve parties or big fireworks,” said Scholz.
He also reiterated his plan for Germany to achieve climate neutrality within 25 years, a goal that would involve “the greatest transformation our economy has seen in more than a century”.
The country will become independent of coal, oil and gas and “generate at least twice as much electricity from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources as we do today”.
He also urged Germans to refrain from big New Year’s Eve parties and their traditional fireworks displays to stop the spread of Covid-19.
He said those who have not yet been vaccinated are at particular risk of becoming infected and suffering from long and serious illness.