The Irish Times

The Irish Times online. Latest news including sport, analysis, business, weather and more from the definitive brand of quality news in Ireland.

Celebrity epidemiologist to be appointed Germany’s health minister.

Germany’s incoming chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has appointed a high-profile epidemiologist, Karl Lauterbach, as his federal health minister in a bid to master its severe fourth wave of Covid-19.

With the new Omicron variant triggering a return of restrictions across the continent, Covid-19 hung over Monday’s presentation of Social Democratic Party (SPD) cabinet appointments in Berlin – in particular a health portfolio that, it seemed, nobody wanted.

Nobody, that is, except Karl Lauterbach, the bow tie-loving Rhineland doctor and SPD politician who has operated as a shadow health minister, in particular on television talk shows, long before the pandemic struck.

Popular with the public for his specialist knowledge, his pessimistic predictions in sing-song Rhineland German have attracted gentle mockery in the media. Some SPD colleagues, businesspeople and even Covid-19 sceptics go further, dubbing Prof Lauterbach the “eternal pandemic alarmist”.

On Monday, Mr Scholz announced his key appointment with a nod to an energetic social media campaign using the hashtag #wewantkarl.

“Most people wished for [a health minister] from the trade and many wished that he be called Karl Lauterbach,” said Mr Scholz. Enjoying his big reveal, he added: “And it shall be he.”

‘Affirmative voices’

The new minister thanked the future chancellor and colleagues for the nomination as well as the “many affirmative voices from the public”.

“We have to fight a pandemic that will last longer than many imagine,” said the 58-year-old MP and epidemiologist, currently on leave from his job at the University of Cologne’s Centre for Health Economics and Clinical Epidemiology. “Vaccination will play a key role, though not only that. We also have to strengthen our health system.”

Prof Lauterbach inherits the health – and pandemic – mantle a week after the peak of fourth wave infections to date. Outgoing minister Jens Spahn departs with a mixed record: the memory of Germany’s mild first wave has long since been eclipsed by a series of Spahn-linked scandals over masks, tests and a battle with low rates of vaccination and booster jabs.

With two-dose numbers ranging from 80 per cent in the northern city-state of Bremen, to just 60 per cent in the eastern state of Saxony, Prof Lauterbach will have to work closely with Germany’s 16 state health ministers on new restrictions – and a proposed vaccine mandate next spring.

Ahead of his appointment on Wednesday, Prof Lauterbach has said Germany is “vaccinating against the clock” and “will not manage it without a vaccination mandate”.


Neighbouring Austria is moving ahead with its own plan to introduce a vaccine mandate by February. Draft legislation indicates that all residents over 14 will be required to have three doses of recognised vaccines, with exceptions made for those with valid medical reasons.

Reports suggest fines for violating the mandate begin at €600 quarterly, with an additional €3,600 for refusing to pay the fine.

Now in its third week of lockdown for all, Austria’s daily infections are down by half from a peak two weeks ago with a vaccination rate of about 72 per cent of the population. Further south in Greece, where 62 per cent of people are fully vaccinated, the government has announced €100 monthly fines from January for over-60s who refuse their jabs.

On Monday, Switzerland stepped up its testing regime and made Covid-19 vaccination certificates – and masks – mandatory for all indoor events.

Further north in Denmark, where experts are warning of a “worrying” spread of the Omicron variant, prime minister Mette Frederiksen has apologised for not wearing a face mask while out shopping at the weekend, in line with week-old new rules.

“It was simply an oversight after the new rules were introduced, and I only became aware of it after a citizen filmed it,” she wrote on Facebook.

Controlling thug kidnaps girlfriend before she falls from van at 60mph.

Controlling thug kidnaps girlfriend before she falls from van at 60mph.

THIS is the harrowing moment a controlling thug kidnapped his teen girlfriend before she fell from a van travelling at 60mph - leaving her unable to walk or talk. Angel Lynn, 19, was found lying in the carriageway of the A6 near Loughborough, Leic...


Jimmy Failla rips Smithsonian for ‘crazy’ tribute to Dr.

Jimmy Failla rips Smithsonian for ‘crazy’ tribute to Dr.

The ‘Fox Across America’ host discusses kids claiming they were ‘traumatized’ by the famous novel, Dr. Fauci being honored at the Smithsonian, and Minnie Mouse’s costume change. #FoxNews Subscribe to Fox News! Watch more Fox News Video: Watch Fox ...

The next US Supreme Court justice

The next US Supreme Court justice

President Joe Biden is expected to name the next U.S. Supreme Court justice to replace the retiring Justice Steven Breyer. ABC News’ Em Nguyen has the details on the possible nominees.

Delivering surprises!

Delivering surprises!

TikTok users are raising money for deserving delivery drivers. ABC News’ Will Ganss has the feel-good details.

A 4-day workweek?

A 4-day workweek?

One California congressman has introduced legislation that would reduce the 40-hour week to 32 hours. ABC’s Andrea Fujii has the details.

Grocery prices rising

Grocery prices rising

Kraft Heinz is reportedly preparing to increase the prices on dozens of its products, as the Federal Reserve makes a move to fight inflation. ABC News’ Mona Kosar Abdi has more.