‘We have to think in phases’: Is this how Germany can return to life with coronavirus?

'We have to think in phases': Is this how Germany can return to life with coronavirus?
People wearing face masks on public transport in Hanover on April 27th. Photo: DPA
Lower Saxony is the first German state to present a plan for returning to everyday life with coronavirus. We took a closer look to see if it can serve as a blueprint for other parts of Germany.

Whether its education, tourism or the leisure industry, Lower Saxony wants to get back to business, at least as much as possible during the coronavirus crisis.

The western German state has drawn up proposals to show how the lockdown can be relaxed and how people can get back to some kind of regular daily life.

“We have to think in phases,” said state premier Stephan Weil, of the centre-left Social Democrats. He presented the five-step plan “for a new daily routine with corona” – the first such concept to emerge from Germany.

The state wants to open restaurants and the tourism industry from May 11th, while outdoor pools could allow a limited number of guests later in the month.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting with state leaders on Wednesday to discuss how Germany can relax measures put in place to stem the spread of Covid-19 in Germany.

But as The Local has been reporting, states have been increasingly going out on their own when it comes to tightening or loosening coronavirus measures. The state of Saxony-Anhalt eased the nationwide ban on contact on Monday, and now is allowing five people to meet instead of two.

READ ALSO: How Germany's states are pushing to relax coronavirus lockdown measures

Meanwhile, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania wants to restart its tourist industry and allow visitors to head to the Baltic Sea again by the end of May. 

Chairs stacked up at a cafe in Hanover during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: DPA

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'People have a right to know'

For Lower Saxony, which is home to the capital Hanover, state premier Weil says the plan was drawn up to “give the people in our state reasonably reliable prospects for the coming weeks”.

After all the uncertainties, Weil said, people “have a right to know when and which further easing measures can be expected” – provided that the infection figures continue to decline.

As of Tuesday May 5th there were around 10,400 confirmed coronavirus infections in Lower Saxony, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. Of those, around 460 people have died and 8.600 people have reported themselves to have recovered.

Lower Saxony, shown on the map below, is the second largest state in size after Bavaria and has around 7.9 million residents.

At the moment Weil is holding off on implementing the new measures, and intends to wait until after the federal-state consultations on May 6th to make firm decisions. Yet he made it clear he wants his government to follow a regional plan rather than towing the federal line.

READ ALSO: Merkel warns Germans to 'remain disciplined' despite easing coronavirus measures

Here's a look at the proposals to reopen Germany's second largest state, which could offer a blueprint for other states.

  • For the trade and service sector: following the opening of smaller shops under 800 square metres, car dealerships, hairdressing salons and bookstores, the restriction on the size of the sales area would be eased in a second phase from May 11th. And then again in the third phase from May 25th. All personal services, such as health and beauty facilities, would be permitted again under certain conditions
  • For tourism, which is particularly important in the Harz Mountain region and on the North Sea coast, a gentle restart would be possible in the second phase from May 11th
  • It would then be possible to rent out holiday homes and apartments, with a maximum occupancy rate of 50 percent or a seven-day re-occupancy period
  • Under the plans, hotels, guesthouses and youth hostels would reopen to guests in the third stage from May 25th onwards, provided that the occupancy rate does not exceed 50 percent and other conditions are met. However, the local authorities and administrative districts can make special rules on access to particular coronavirus hotspots or to the East Frisian islands to make sure the infection rate does not rise too much
  • The state also believes the gastronomy sector can get up and running again from the second stage on May 11th, although this will be limited to restaurants, cafés and beer gardens and only with a maximum of 50 percent capacity.
  • A further opening of food and drink outlets would be possible from May 25th, according to economics minister Bernd Althusmann. Bars, pubs, and clubs, however, will have to remain closed for the foreseeable future
  • When it comes to schools, there would be a phased return in line with Germany-wide guidelines set to be announced in the coming weeks.  At the moment, classes 4, 9/10 and 13 are already back in the classroom
  • Open-air playgrounds, zoos, museums, botanical gardens and sports fields are already open again – provided that a distance of two metres can be maintained
  • In the third stage from May 25th, outdoor pools with a limited number of people could reopen under the plans, but not indoor pools and saunas
  • Cable cars, mini-golf courses and amusement parks would also be allowed to open. Weil also believes Bundesliga football games could continue without a crowd present

Despite all the loosening up of measures, a new everyday life “with corona” has to become the norm, said state premier Weil.

Stages four and five, which would come after May 25th, are not yet drawn up but Weil said there needed to be a strategy to restore at least “halfway to normal conditions”, and it all must be done cautiously.

For the time being, event and demonstration bans remain in force – as do compulsory masks and distance rules on public transport and when shopping, as well as the ban on gatherings of more than two people in public.

Lower Saxony authorities said there would not be not be a return to regular daycare and school operations before the summer holidays.

However, the state hopes to get Kitas back up and running at the beginning of August.


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