Lawmakers have pushed to accelerate the vaccination of teachers to keep schools open for younger children. The move comes amid rising infections and the threat of a third wave.
Day care centers and elementary schools in 10 German states reopened on Monday, almost two months after their doors were shut due to a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The states of Saxony and Lower Saxony had already had pupils return to schools. The latest reopenings bring the total number of states with open schools to 12 out of 16.
Conditions are still far from normal, as some schools rotate pupils in an out of classrooms, allowing them to physically attend one day and learn online on the next. Others have split the classes into smaller groups and forbid contact between children from different groups.
The decision to open schools for the youngest children followed a continuous fall in the rate of infection across the country. But by Monday this trend had reversed as the more contagious variants of coronavirus spread through Germany.
Families Minister Franziska Giffey defended the move, but also called for staff in elementary schools and day care centers to be moved up on the vaccine priority list, in an interview with the German public broadcaster ZDF.
Health Minister Jens Spahn will meet with state officials on Monday afternoon to discuss the option of bringing forward vaccinations for teachers and staff.
Spahn expressed his frustration with the new rise in infections on German television, saying: "It's annoying, it's annoying the heck out of everybody."
"It also brings a bit of uncertainty back in there now, and that's why caution, testing and vaccination have to be with us now as we go forward," he said.
Support for the early vaccinations of school staff also came from the Education Minister Anja Karliczek.
"If large numbers of teachers and day care workers were protected by the vaccine, this would help them to teach students in the schools themselves or to care for children in the day care centers," she told the dpa news agency.
The politician from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party also said that the school management in the various states must be responsive to the new rise in infections.
"I am sure that the federal states will take this into account when making their opening decisions," she said.
Baden-Württemberg's health minister, Manfred Lucha, told the public radio broadcaster SWR that his state was ready to vaccinate teaching staff from Monday.
"We have now decided that we will vaccinate educators and teachers ... that we will now set an example with the good AstraZeneca vaccine, which we have available in large quantities," he said.
Eugen Brysch of the German Foundation for Patient Protection told dpa, however, that bringing the vaccinations of teachers forward, ahead of other vulnerable people, would "cost lives."
The German government had set a seven-day incidence rate of 35 — previously 50 — as a target for loosening restrictions. However, after a slow decline during the monthslong lockdown, the Robert Koch Institute reported a rate of 61 on Monday, up from 60.2 on Sunday and 57.7 on Saturday.
The R-value reached 1.07 on Sunday afternoon, its highest point for several weeks. R values above 1 mean that the number of cases will increase.
Nevertheless, ministers have expressed concern regarding the continued closure of schools on children's educational development and mental health.