Emmanuel Macron's latest TV announcement broke viewing records in France (although it's not like the French could go to a bar instead). Photo: AFP
As a federal country with 16 states, Germany also put in place several measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some more stringent than others. Bavaria, Saxony or Saarland, the three states who implemented a full lockdown, only allowed residents to leave their home for essential purposes.
But across the country, one thing has been clear: public life has now been on pause for over a month. First large events were cancelled at the beginning of March, and by mid March bars, restaurants, and any non-essential business had also closed their doors. Chancellor Angela-Merkel also issued strict guidelines for the whole country, including only being outside with one other person at a time.
But after meeting with state premiers over a teleconference on Wednesday April 15th, Merkel announced a new nationwide plan.
The key date is May 3rd: Germany’s social distancing restrictions – specifying a distance of 1.5 metres between people and mandating groups of no more than two – have been extended to then, but are likely to continue in some form. Merkel said the next steps will be discussed by the federal and state governments on April 30th.
The plan also specified that shops of up to 800 metres would be allowed to reopen starting on April 20th, and schools would begin to welcome students again starting May 4th and at the secondary and primary levels.
Yet the ban of major events will continue until at least August 31st, with some fall festivals – such as Munich’s world-famous Oktoberfest – still up in the air. Germany is also keeping its borders closed for at least another 20 days, and indefinitely barring restaurants and cafes from hosting sit-in guests. Fitness studios, bars and cinemas will also remain shut for the time being.
Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said businesses would open “a little later” than in other states.
He said he wanted to see protective face masks on public transport as a “requirement” rather than a recommendation. Bavaria also wants to reopen schools gradually from May 11th.
While there remains an indefinite closure of religious institutions throughout Germany, Berlin's mayor Michael Müller is pushing to allow services at churches, mosques and synagogues under specific hygienic conditions. He's also in favour of allowing smaller demonstrations to take place.
While it remains unclear throughout the country when certain cultural institutions will reopen, individual states are setting their own dates. For example, the eastern Saxony-Anhalt is permitting libraries and museums to open their doors again on May 4th.
Other states, such as northeastern Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, are also permitting secondary schools to begin as early as April 27th.
For a country with a reputation for being organized and efficient, Germany is still lacking clear blanket guidelines for the country, and in the coming days its likely that we'll see more individual states set their own. But it has taken the first concrete steps to bringing back public life in the safest way possible.