Public health expert Karl Lauterbach named Germany’s health minister

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor-designate, has appointed the MP and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach as his health minister, putting a prominent voice of caution and a strong advocate of mandatory vaccinations in charge of the country’s pandemic response.

Over the past year-and-a-half Lauterbach has emerged as one of Germany’s best-known and most-trusted experts on public health, and became renowned for his strong support of lockdown measures to fight the spread of Covid-19.

He has backed stricter restrictions on the unvaccinated and called for the closure of all bars and clubs until the fourth wave of infections is over.

Lauterbach’s appointment comes at a time when infection rates have been hitting levels not seen since the start of the pandemic. German authorities have signalled they will introduce obligatory vaccinations next year to tackle the stubbornly low inoculation rates.

Scholz is due to be elected chancellor by the Bundestag on Wednesday, nearly 11 weeks after his Social Democrats (SPD) narrowly won national elections that brought the curtain down on Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign. He will lead an unprecedented three-way coalition with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

The FDP and Greens have already announced their nominees for cabinet posts, and on Monday it was the SPD’s turn. The SPD and FDP at the weekend overwhelmingly approved the 177-page coalition accord between the three parties. The Greens will announce the results of a membership vote on the deal later on Monday.

Lauterbach, who has been adjunct professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health since 2008, said the country would “win the fight against the pandemic and we will be better equipped for further pandemics”. Vaccinations would “play a central role”, he added.

Asked about the prospects for the Christmas period, he said a key aim would be “to bring the case numbers down so far that we can recommend travel without endangering people”.

Confirming Lauterbac’s appointment, Scholz said Germans wanted a health minister who was a specialist in that field and someone who could do the job well.

Naming a trio of women to head the interior, defence and development ministries, Scholz said: “In this government, security will be in the hands of strong women.” It means that for the first time in German history, it will have women foreign, defence and interior ministers.

Nancy Faeser, a lawyer who leads the SPD in the southern state of Hesse, will become Germany’s first female interior minister, overseeing the federal police force and domestic intelligence.

She told reporters that her focus would be “the fight against rightwing extremism” which she described as the “greatest threat that our democratic system currently faces”.

Christine Lambrecht, outgoing justice minister, will move to the defence ministry, while Klara Geywitz, a Social Democrat legislator from the eastern state of Brandenburg, will become minister of construction.

Hubertus Heil will stay on as minister of labour and social affairs, and Svenja Schulze, outgoing environment minister, will move to the ministry of economic co-operation and development, which is in charge of overseas aid.

Scholz’s close aide, Wolfgang Schmidt, who was previously a state secretary at the finance ministry, will become chancellery minister — effectively Scholz’s chief of staff.

The Greens and FDP have already named their nominees to cabinet posts. Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock will become foreign minister, co-leader Robert Habeck is to head the economics ministry and Christian Lindner, FDP leader, will be Germany’s next finance minister.

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