BERLIN (Reuters) - People who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 should be allowed to go to restaurants and cinemas earlier than others, a German minister said, contradicting other cabinet members who have so far opposed special freedoms for those inoculated.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the state had massively restricted people's basic rights in order to contain infections and avoid overwhelming hospitals.
"It has not yet been conclusively clarified to what extent vaccinated people can infect others," Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
"What is clear, however, is that a vaccinated person no longer takes a ventilator away from anyone. This removes at least one central reason for restricting fundamental rights."
Around 1 million people in Germany had been vaccinated as of Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. Some 83.2 million people were living in the country at the end of 2020, data from the statistics office show.
Maas's comments contrast with other German ministers, who have opposed such special rights, fearing it could lead to inequalities in society at a time when not everyone has the opportunity to get inoculated.
A spokesman for the justice ministry told Reuters its was "out of the question" to treat vaccinated people differently while it had not been scientifically proven that vaccination also prevents transmission of the virus.
A health ministry spokesman also rejected the suggestion, while Andrew Ullmann, health spokesman for the Free Democrats in the German parliament, said a discussion over privileges could only be held once vaccination becomes more widespread.
Maas said the government was also restricting the rights of people who ran restaurants, cinemas, theatres and museums.
"They have a right to reopen their businesses at some point, if there is a possibility to do so," he said, adding that if there were only vaccinated people at such venues they could no longer endanger each other.
While Maas acknowledged this might lead to inequalities for a "transitional period", he said such a move would be justified under the constitution, as long as there was an objective reason and it didn't affect basic public services.
Germany has extended lockdown measures until at least the end of January, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has brought forward a meeting with regional leaders to Tuesday to discuss tougher restrictions.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Pravin Char, Kirsten Donovan)