Coronavirus: Is Germany heading towards a full lockdown?

The German government wants to avoid imposing a forced curfew in the fight against coronavirus. But is urging people to cut down on social contact enough?

Coronavirus: Is Germany heading towards a full lockdown?
Cafes are still open, like this one in Berlin. Photo: DPA

On Wednesday morning, the Robert Koch Institute for public health said up to 10 million people in Germany could contract coronavirus in the coming months if social contact was not reduced. 

“If we don't manage to sustainably and effectively reduce contact between people over a matter of weeks, then it is possible we will have up to 10 million cases within two to three months,” said RKI president Lothar Wieler.

It came as Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the nation in a televised speech, urging people to follow government measures introduced this week designed to limit social contact among the population.

“The situation is serious,” said Merkel. “Take it seriously. Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity,” she said.

Although some places are undoubtedly quieter,  the hustle and bustle continues in many streets, parks and cafes across the country. And it begs the question: is Germany doing enough by trying to reason with people to encourage social distancing?

Or will the government look at more extreme measures such as forced quarantine or curfew (Ausgangssperre) currently being used in nearby countries Italy, France and Spain?

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

What exactly is Germany doing?

In order to stem the spread of the coronavirus, public life in Germany is largely at a standstill. The country has introduced strict border controls with five countries and the EU has closed its borders to foreigners. 

On Monday the federal government agreed with the 16 states a set of widespread measures. Although there are some small differences between states, the restrictions include a ban on religious services, while non-essential shops have to close.

Supermarkets, banks and pharmacies are among the shops allowed to stay open, while bars, clubs, swimming pools and cinemas have been told to close. Restaurants have to close by 6pm.

Schools and daycare centres also closed while events have been banned.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus restrictions: What's closed (and what's open) in Germany?

The government has repeatedly urged people to socially distance themselves from each other, stay at home as much as possible and not go on holiday.

There have even been calls from politicians and the RKI urging residents not to hold “corona parties” – gatherings held in homes or outside between lots of people because bars and other public places are currently shut.

Empty seating in Mannheim this week. Photo: DPA

Is Germany's strategy working?

It's still too early to tell.

The RKI said it now plans to use anonymised mobile phone data provided by Deutsche Telekom to check whether the public is keeping to the new measures. This will help experts analyse infection rates.

“The data will show us if the mobility of the population as a whole has gone down,” said Wieler. “That's important…because we need to know why infection rates have increased or decreased.”

What we do know is the numbers show a deteriorating picture. As of Wednesday afternoon there were more than 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the RKI.

That’s an increase of more than 2,700 in just over a day. On Tuesday morning there were about 7,272 confirmed cases and under 17 reported deaths.

As of Wednesday a total of 26 people had died and 76 people are reported to have fully recovered.

READ ALSO: 'Up to 10 million' in Germany could contract coronavirus in coming months

The government has also urged states to prepare an emergency plan for dealing with coronavirus patients, saying hotels and corridors could be cleared and used for treatment. 

What are other European countries doing?

In Belgium a strict curfew came into force at 12 noon on Wednesday which means until April 5th, residents will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, such as food shopping, health-related errands or assisting someone in need.

Spain, Italy, Denmark and France have also declared similar lockdowns, which means citizens are only able to leave their house or apartment in special circumstances, such as for work, for food shopping, to visit a doctor or for other urgent matters.

Does Germany need to turn to more extreme measures?

Politicians have repeatedly said these kinds of restrictions, which rely on coercive measures and control rather than people taking personal responsibility, are a last resort.

North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) premier Armin Laschet called on people to follow the current guidelines so that an enforced quarantine could be avoided.  

“A curfew is avoidable if we stay home,” he said on Wednesday, adding that a lockdown was not out of the question.

NRW is the worst-hit German state, with almost 4,000 of the total German cases.

There have been suggestions curfews would come into force across the country at different times depending on how badly the state is affected.

Experts are also divided.

The virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit said the government needed to examine its own situation rather than look to other countries.

“We must take the appropriate measures for Germany,” said Schmidt-Chanasit. “The health system, the structures, the cultural backgrounds are different.”

In contrast, Lars Schaade, Vice President of the RKI, said “anything that puts distance between people is good.”

Chairman of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, said he wasn't in favour of forced curfews.

“Anyone who imposes such a ban has to also explain when and how they will lift it,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery argued in the Rheinische Post newspaper that Italy’s lockdown had not achieved the desired effect of slowing down the virus spread. 

An empty U-Bahn train in Munich on Monday. Photo: DPA

The Social Democrat’s Katarina Barley said curfews should be a last resort.

READ ALSO: How to help others in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic

Barley told the radio station Bayern2 that the most important thing was to avoid social contact.

“If people stick to that, we don't need curfews. However, if it continues in this way, that there are some who behave irresponsibly at the expense of those who are particularly vulnerable, the elderly, the chronically ill, then we will not get around it in Germany either,” said the Vice-President of the EU Parliament.

The conservative Christian Democrat’s interior policy expert Armin Schuster said he expected lockdown measures to be introduced in Germany, but at different times depending on the state.

He welcomed the that Bavaria had declared a ‘disaster’ situation, which allows the state’s authorities to push through new restrictions faster, including possibly asking the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) for assistance.

“In critical situations it is better to step on the brakes fully,” Shuster said.

How can Germany enforce a curfew?

According to Business Insider, the government is examining the legal basis for a possible curfew, which would force Germany's some 80 million residents to stay inside.

However, the implementation of curfews is the responsibility of the individual states and that means local governments would have to prepare.

From a legal point of view, a general curfew is likely to be a sensitive issue.

“The big question is whether the legal situation is sufficient to impose a blanket curfew on the entire population or whether the Bundestag will have to 'amend' it,” Dr. Ulrich Karpenstein of the Redeker Law Firm told Business Insider.

Merkel did not announce new measures in her appeal to the public on Wednesday evening, but instead called for people to do their bit.

“I truly believe we can succeed in this task, if all citizens truly understand their own tasks,” Merkel said.

But the situation is changing rapidly and if calls for social distancing don't work, it looks like forcing people to stay at home may come down the line.

Member comments

  1. In my area of the NRW, a lot of people are being careful. But I still see enough instances of different Families standing talking close together, children of different families playing football together. What is so difficult for these people to get that stay apart means stay apart?

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now