SHARE
COPY LINK

HEALTH

Two eastern German states move to drop coronavirus restrictions

Two German states with low coronavirus infection rates announced plans to throw off key public safety precautions, sparking anger and alarm Monday in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition.

Two eastern German states move to drop coronavirus restrictions
People dining outdoors in Dresden, Saxony on Friday. Photo: DPA

Thuringia and Saxony, both in the ex-communist east of the country, said they would “open up everything” with few exceptions from June 6th, while monitoring for new outbreaks.

READ ALSO: First German state set to end coronavirus restrictions in early June

Under Germany's federalist system, the 16 regional states have far more leeway to set policy than in more centrally governed countries such as Britain and France.

Merkel has been widely praised for keeping the coronavirus death rate in particular far lower than in many countries worldwide, even as she faced impatience from state premiers to accelerate the opening up of Europe's top economy.

But pressure has grown especially from regions less impacted by the virus to abandon national guidelines and give cities and towns the power to set the rules, while relying on “personal responsibility” for social distancing.

“I didn't say that people should start hugging each other or take off their masks to kiss each other,” Thuringia premier Bodo Ramelow told public broadcaster MDR.

Diners eating in the city centre of Eisenach, Thuringia after they were reopened earlier this month. Photo: DPA

But he said it made “no sense” to maintain crisis measures when half of the districts in his state hadn't reported any new infections in the last three weeks.

Local health and safety offices should be given the power to monitor for outbreaks and react accordingly with the support of state authorities, he added.

Following Thuringia's lead, officials in Saxony said they were also ready for a “paradigm change” in the battle against the virus.

“Instead of imposing general rules and then allowing a lot of exceptions, essentially everything will be opened up and only a few exceptions will be made for what is not possible,” regional health minister Petra Koepping said.

The announcements touched off angry reactions within Merkel's right-left “grand coalition”.

Heath Minister Jens Spahn warned that such moves ran the risk of convincing Germans they could drop their guard.

“You must not create the impression that the pandemic is over,” he told the Bild tabloid.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus outbreak in Germany is 'under control', says health minister

Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the Social Democrats, junior partners in the coalition, accused Ramelow in particular of pandering to extremist critics of the safety measures who have staged loud protests in recent weeks.

“I expect politicians to lead and provide orientation and not be led by a few thousand people with conspiracy theories standing up in public squares,” he told Bild.

Bild reported Monday that the Merkel government intends to extend social distancing and mask wearing guidelines nationwide beyond the current deadline of June 5th.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

SHOW COMMENTS