An elderly woman waits to be called for receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the regional corona vaccination…
FILE - A woman waits to be called to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the regional coronavirus vaccination center in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, Jan. 22, 2021.

BERLIN - The founder of BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer in making one of the first coronavirus vaccines to be approved for use, is optimistic that the virus will be under control in most European countries by the end of the summer despite a faltering vaccine rollout.

In Germany, owners of shuttered shops and would-be vacationers are increasingly restive over COVID-19 restrictions. Some 20,000 people protested against lockdowns in the central city of Kassel on Saturday.

European Union governments are facing criticism over the slow start to their vaccination campaigns, with supply hiccups leaving the bloc lagging far behind countries such as Israel, Britain and the United States.

But BioNTech founder Ugur Sahin said he was optimistic the problems would prove temporary, adding it was possible to ensure 70% of Germans were vaccinated by the end of September, at which point he said the virus would pose few problems.

'Background noise'

"In many European countries and the U.S., we will probably not need lockdowns by summer's end," he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "There'll be outbreaks, but they'll be background noise. There'll be mutations, but they won't frighten us."

Almost 9% of the German population had received at least one vaccine shot by Saturday. Meanwhile, Britain passed the halfway point with 50% of adults having received at least one dose.

Protesters hold up an umbrella with lettering reading "Be free" as they gather for a demonstration to demand provision of basic rights and an end to restrictive coronavirus measures in Kassel, Germany, March 20, 2021.

Protesters from across Germany converged on Kassel for a march Saturday that was organized by the "Lateral Thinkers," an online conspiracy movement.

Police used water cannon and pepper spray after the protests against lockdowns and other coronavirus rules turned violent.

"Bottles were thrown and there were attempts to break through barriers," police said on Twitter.

In Germany, the sluggish vaccine deployment and continuing restrictions are weighing heavily on the fortunes of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, who are slipping in the polls in an election year even as rising COVID-19 case numbers look set to force authorities to put the brakes on attempts to gradually reopen the economy.

Above the limit

The number of newly diagnosed cases is more than 100 cases per 100,000 population over a week, the threshold above which authorities say they must impose stricter distancing rules to stop the health care system from being overburdened.

"Many are simply disappointed," Bavaria's conservative Premier Markus Soeder, a likely candidate to succeed Merkel in the national election, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

"A false move now risks turning this third wave [of the virus] into a permanent wave," he said ahead of a meeting on Monday of national and regional leaders at which they are expected to discuss the next stage of coronavirus measures.

"We have a tool: the emergency brake. It must be applied strictly everywhere in Germany," Soeder said, referring to the possibility of halting the easing of restrictions.

 
 

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