Germany’s Merkel drawn into controversy over face masks for homeless

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her health minister in a party meeting on Monday amid a controversy over the delivery of face masks to the homeless and people with disabilities.

“We all support [Helath Minister] Jens Spahn,” Merkel said, according to sources at a meeting of her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU). The accusations against him were not based in fact, she said.

Armin Laschet, a frontrunner to succeed Merkel as chancellor after elections in September, used the controversy to attack the Social Democrats (SPD), who had led the criticism of Spahn.

The centre-left SPD is the CDU’s current coalition partner, but the two parties are campaigning against each other ahead of national elections in September.

The SPD was seeking to undermine Spahn by “negative campaigning,” Laschet said at the CDU meeting.

On Sunday, Spahn described reports about uncertified masks being distributed to vulnerable groups as “outrageous.”

Opposition politicians, notably from the SPD, had slammed Spahn after news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the government had been looking for a use for uncertified face masks left over from a burst of orders during the first wave of infections in 2020.

Spahn himself was forced to stand his ground over the issue on Monday, but also pointed the finger at another ministry – one run by the SPD.

“The ideal of distributing a special contingent of masks to the homeless and those with disabilities was incidentally an idea from the Labour Ministry itself,” Spahn said ahead of the CDU meeting.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is led by Hubertus Heil, who is from the SPD.

The masks had been checked for their ability to protect from infection – which Spahn described as the “decisive” factor – but had not received EU accreditation, he said.

Millions of masks of the same type had been distributed and used across Germany, Spahn said.

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