EXPLAINED: How France and Germany’s lockdown exit strategies compare

EXPLAINED: How France and Germany's lockdown exit strategies compare
Photo: AFP
France and Germany, the EU's two biggest nations, have announced road maps for an easing of restrictions and a return to normal life amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. But how do the two countries' strategies compare?
France has been on lockdown since March 17th and its conditions are among the strictest in Europe.
 
Everyone must stay at home apart from essential trips out for groceries, medical appointments and brief periods of exercise and – for key workers – travelling to and from work.
 
Every trip out of the home requires a permission form either on a smartphone or in paper form and police have been ruthlessly enforcing the lockdown – more than 700,000 fines have been dished out so far.
 
But on Monday April 13th President Emmanuel Macron made his fourth prime time TV address to the nation telling almost 37 million viewers that the lockdown would be extended, but that a plan was in place for what happens next.
 

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.

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When will the lockdown end? 
 
France
 
President Emmanuel Macron has laid out a timetable for the ending of restrictions – with caveats that everything depends on the health situation.
 
Nothing will be eased until May 11th but from then on there will be a gradual return to work for most businesses and schools.
 
Bars, restaurants, cafés and tourist sites are not included in the first wave, but are expected to start reopening in early summer.
 
The last thing to be loosened is the restriction on public gatherings – currently all public gatherings are forbidden – and this is provisionally scheduled for mid July (amid speculation that this will allow France's popular July 14th Fête National to go ahead).
 
Angela Merkel has won praise for her clear communication about coronavirus. Photo: AFP
 
Germany

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. 

 
Will there be regional differences for when lockdown ends?

France

Eastern France and the Paris region have been much worse affected than other parts of France, but despite this there are currently no plans to ease restrictions on a regional basis.
 
There's still a month to go before the lockdown is loosened though, so if the situation in those areas remains bad they could see tighter restrictions.
 
Local officials will also get the final say on when schools in their area reopen – depending on the local situation and whether sufficient protection is in place for teachers and pupils.
 
 
Germany
 
As Germany is a decentralized federal country, there will likely be large variations in the measures that different states mandate.
 
The timetable of exiting the lockdown could in states such as Bavaria, Germany's hardest hit state with over 36,000 confirmed cases and 1,330 deaths.

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. 

What economic measures have been taken to ease country out of lockdown? 
 
France
 
France has put together a package of measures generally agreed to be one of the most generous in Europe – €110 billion of financial aid so far.
 
There are already 8 million people signed up to the chômage partiel (partial unemployment) scheme which allows people who cannot work to keep their jobs while the State pays 84 percent of their salary.  There is also a package of help for self employed people and business owners, along with 'holidays' for tax, rent and utilities.
 
The French government believes that massive public spending now will lessen the length and severity of the inevitable recession.
 
 
Germany
 
Germany also put together a generous coronavirus rescue package totalling nearly €1.1 trillion for businesses of all sizes, as well as renters, families and social welfare recipients. The plan includes a €40 billion aid package for struggling freelancers and small businesses of up to 10 employees.
 
Germany has a similar scheme to France known as Kurzarbeit (short work), in which the government covers around two-thirds of the salaries of workers whose employers slash their hours after an agreement with the company's works council.
 
Labour minister Hubertus Heil has said that the number of people affected would likely peak the 1.4 million seen in the 2009 financial crisis.
 
What's the position around wearing masks?
 
France's position has changed several times, leaving many people rather confused. From requisitioning all mask stocks and saying that only sick people should wear them, the government is now encouraging people to wear masks in public.
 
That position will change again once lockdown ends, with masks being distributed to everyone, although at this stage there is no talk of making them compulsory. A local mayor who tried to make masks compulsory in this town had his order overturned by the courts.
 
Germany
 
Merkel’s government also recommended the use of face masks in shops and public transport, yet their use is voluntary, save for the two cities (the eastern Jena and western Hanau) which have made them a requirement. 
 
Bavarian state premier Markus Söder has pushed to make masks mandatory nationwide, and has pushed to ramp up domestic production of them in his southern state. For example, the automotive supplier Zettl has now switched its focus to manufacturing masks.
 
Starting in August, German companies will make tens of millions of masks per week, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday, including 10 million meeting the FFP2 protective standard and 40 million surgical masks.
 
Will testing change?
 
France
 
Testing is rapidly becoming a political battleground in France, with many believing the government is not testing widely enough. France's strategy (which was largely governed by a shortage of testing facilities) was initially to test only healthcare workers and those with severe symptoms. This has gradually been widened out and by May 11th there will be capacity to test anyone who has coronavirus symptoms.
 
But Macron caused controversy when he declared that it “made no sense” to test everyone in France, despite the emerging evidence of the success of widespread testing in other countries.
 
 
A drive-through coronavirus testing centre in Hamburg. Photo: AFP
 
Germany
 
Germany has become known for testing more than any country in Europe, and being one of the top testers in the world.
 
At the beginning of April, Berlin-based senior virologist Christian Drosten estimated that around 500,000 tests were being carried out per week, which has been a key factor in keeping the country's death rate relatively low compared to other European countries including France and Spain.
 
Germany is pushing to carry out 200,000 tests a day by the end of April.
 
What's missing from the strategy?
 
France
 
The exit strategy in France is still at the bare bones stage, with more detail expected in the coming week.
Everything is still highly dependent on the situation in the country's hospitals but overall two big questions have emerged; travel and the elderly.
 
Macron has already announced that the over 70s and those in high-risk groups will be asked to stay in confinement as the rest of the country slowly goes back to normal, but no-one knows for how long.
 
The head of the Scientific Council (who at 71 is in a high risk group himself) told the French Senate that they could be in lockdown until a cure or vaccine is found – neither of which looks imminent.
 
The other big question is travel into France, currently allowed only for very specific groups and also requiring an international travel certificate.
 
We know that the ban on travel into the EU from outside the Schengen Zone will last until at least May 15th, probably longer, but there has been no indication of when France might lift restrictions on its own borders.
 
It's possible this could depend on the situation in other countries, particularly the UK which has been a concern to France.
 
Unconfirmed reports suggested that the UK finally locked down after a threat from Macron to close the border if they did not. What's certainly true is that the French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said publicly that France “would find it hard to accept” people from the UK if the country did not do more to control the situation.
 
 
 
Germany
 
A lot also remains missing from Germany's strategy: will there be different requirements for older or immunocompromised people? When and how will popular cultural establishments and well as religious institutions reopen? Will there still be fines for breaking the existing restrictions – and how much?
 
Some constitutional judges believe that unequal standards are applied to the relaxation of Germany's coronavirus rules, asking why, for example, car dealerships are allowed to open again starting on Monday, yet church services must be put on hold indefinitately.
 
The idea of stricter rules for older people is also being floated around, but nothing is set in stone yet. Berlin's health senator Dilek Kalayci (from the liberal Social Democrats), for example, is pushing that people over 70 years of age should no longer be allowed to voluntarily leave their homes.
 
Tübingen's Green Party mayor Boris Palmer has also spoken out in favour of requiring the elderly and chronically ill to stay at home – yet constituional law experts have questioned if such a mandate could be enforced.

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.

 
 

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  1. “Unconfirmed reports suggested that the UK finally locked down after a threat from Macron to close the border if they did not.”
    UK has border with France? Where? Eurotunnel?

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