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Merkel and Germany’s state leaders to draw up plan on next phase of coronavirus crisis

Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet with state leaders on Wednesday face-to-face for the first time in over three months to discuss the next phase of the coronavirus crisis. Here's what we can expect.

Merkel and Germany's state leaders to draw up plan on next phase of coronavirus crisis
Angela Merkel attending a meeting on June 16th. Photo: DPA

The leaders of Germany's 16 federal states are to meet with Chancellor Merkel on Wednesday afternoon to thrash out how the country can get through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

They are to meet face-to-face in the Chancellery for the first time since mid-March. During the height of the pandemic they moved meetings to video and telephone conferences.

Here's what's on the agenda.

Can Germany survive the economic slump?

Coronavirus is still on the minds of politicians. But the discussions are no longer so much about dealing with the pandemic – and instead are about the consequences, and how to keep the country afloat.

The state premiers and Merkel will discuss the how to organise and put in place the €130 billion economic stimulus package that the grand coalition, made up of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed on earlier this month.

This includes the question of what proportion of measures the federal government will take on, and which ones the individual states will steer.

On Tuesday, Merkel warned of possible setbacks. The German economy is suffering a huge slump, she told her party colleagues on Tuesday, according to DPA. No-one can predict consumer behaviour during this stage of the pandemic, she said, adding that it's a very tense time.

How can the aid work in practice?

Some of the economic stimulus package has already been put in place, such as the temporary VAT reduction from July to the end of the year, and the €300 child payment (Kinderbonus) for families.

Explained: How does Germany's Kinderbonus coronavirus payment work?

Now it is a matter of more practical questions. For example, the planned tax relief for single parents is to be granted automatically and unbureaucratically without the affected people having to apply for it. So how can this work without hiccups?

Meanwhile, the planned state emergency reserve for medical protective equipment and medicines should last for at least a month, a draft paper on the meeting says.

And laptops and tablets for pupils in need, which the federal government is financing with a €500 million programme, are to be ready to use in schools after the summer holidays, and available for kids to borrow. It means everyone can be more prepared if distance learning has to take place again.

In addition, the meeting on Wednesday will deal with the speedy processing of the bridging aid for small and medium-sized enterprises, which are losing a particularly large amount of sales due to the pandemic, and with the loss of trade tax revenue for the municipalities.

Families are to recieve a €300 bonus for each child with the Kinderbonus programme. Photo: DPA

Another topic on the agenda is the accelerated expansion of mobile communications networks. Can Germany really get its act together when it comes to moving forward with digital infrastructure?

Will there be any dispute over face masks and social distancing in Germany's states?

In the past weeks, Germany's states have been gradually relaxing coronavirus restrictions. Throughout the crisis, there's been some conflict over how quickly this should happen.

However, the majority of states have stuck to the rule of mandatory face masks on public transport and shops, and the 1.5 metre distance rule between people who don't live together.

Before the meeting, Söder said he did not expect leaders to clash over this issue. But he warned against a lack of clarity: despite all the different ways Germany's 16 states are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, an “extreme patchwork quilt” must not be allowed to develop.

Yet there are already differing voices. In Saxony, politicians are thinking about an end to the obligation to wear face masks when shopping, for example. But the decision depends on an agreement at federal level, said Saxony's Health Minister Petra Köpping (SPD).

At least in schools, the distance rule could be dropped after the summer holidays. The President of the Conference of Education Ministers and Rhineland-Palatinate education minister Stefanie Hubig (SPD) had spoken out in favour of this.

READ ALSO: Schools to 'return to normal' for German kids after summer holidays

Full-day care for primary school-age children

From 2025 onwards, all parents with children who attend primary school in Germany will be legally entitled to childcare that lasts until the end of the working day.

This topic, which is the latest initiative by Family Minister Franziska Giffey (SPD) and Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) will be on the agenda as they are concerns that the funding is not enough.

“In itself, we think the idea of all-day care is excellent, but the amount of money the federal government has made available so far is nowhere near enough to shoulder this challenge,” said Bavarian state premier Markus Söder (CSU) ahead of the meeting.

Giffey and Karliczek urged for this to be put on the agenda of Wednesday's meeting in order to move forward with the relevant legislation.

According to estimates, the expansion of the approximately 15,000 primary schools will cost €5 to €7 billion. So far, the government planned to provide states with €2 billion but the funds are now to be increased.

First 'real life' meeting in three months

Merkel and the heads of states last met in person on March 12th.

In the days that followed, public life in Germany was gradually shut down: schools and daycare centres were closed, as were restaurants, bars and other facilities. And then the contact restrictions were introduced.

READ ALSO: How Germany's new multibillion aid package will benefit you

Since then, the Chancellor and local leaders have discussed the further course of action in the coronavirus pandemic in several video conferences. Increasingly, this has revealed differences over the pace of relaxation of measures. Since the beginning of May, the federal states have increasingly been doing their own thing.


However, North Rhine-Westphalia's head of government Armin Laschet (CDU) is now advocating a joint approach. “Coping with the Corona pandemic is and remains a challenge for the entire state,” Laschet told the “Rheinische Post”.

“Not least in view of the upcoming travel season, we need a common framework of federal and state governments with the right toolbox of protective measures, hygiene concepts and contact tracing.”

Whatever happens, this meeting signifies the next stage of dealing with the consequences of the pandemic in Germany and how the country can move forward.
 

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COVID-19 RULES

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Many Covid restrictions have been dropped in Germany, but some rules remain in place. And as infections increase again, it's important to be aware of what you should do if you get Covid.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Germany has relaxed or changed many Covid restrictions in recent months. However, with Covid infections rocketing again, people are reminding themselves of what rules remain in place, and what they have to do if they get a positive test.

Here’s a quick roundup of what you should know. 

Face masks

Covid masks have to be worn when travelling on public transport, including planes departing to and from Germany. 

They also have to be worn in places where there are more vulnerable people, such as care homes, hospitals and doctor offices. 

Masks are not mandatory anymore in shops (including supermarkets) and restaurants, but individual businesses can enforce the rule so watch out for signs on the door. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FFP2 masks have become the standard in Germany, but in some cases other medical masks are sufficient.

There are no longer any entry rules to public venues such as the 3G or 2G rule, meaning that people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. 

However, they could return in autumn if the infection protection laws are adapted, and if the Covid situation gets worse.

Mandatory isolation 

The rules on isolation differ from state to state, but there is one general requirement: those who test positive for Covid have to go into isolation at home and avoid all contact with people outside the household. The isolation period lasts at least five days or a maximum of 10 days.

If you get a positive result at home, you should go to a test centre and undergo a rapid antigen test. If it is positive, the quarantine obligation kicks in. If it is negative, you have to get a PCR test.

If you have Covid symptoms, you should contact your doctor, local health authorities or the non-emergency medical on-call service on 116 117. They can advise or whether you should get a PCR test. 

Across German states, the isolation period lasts 10 days, but – as we mentioned above – there are differences on how it can end earlier. 

In Berlin, for instance, it can be shortened from the fifth day with a negative test if you have been symptom free for 48 hours. If this isn’t the case, the isolation is extended until you have been symptom-free for 48 hours and tested negative. But you can leave without a negative test after 10 days. 

A positive Covid test.

A positive Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Anyone who tests positive for Covid using a rapid test at a testing centre can have a free PCR test to confirm whether they have Covid-19. If the PCR test is negative, there is no obligation to go into quarantine.

In Bavaria, the isolation period is five days after the first positive test. For isolation to end on day five you must be symptom free for at least 48 hours. Otherwise, isolation is extended for 48 hours at a time until the maximum of 10 days. 

A test-to-release is not needed to end the isolation, unless the person works in a medical setting. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

After isolation, Bavaria recommends that you wear an FFP2 mask in public places indoors and reduce contact for an extra five days. 

The state of Hesse has a similar system to Bavaria where a test is not needed to end the isolation early (unless the person works in a medical setting).

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg, residents can end their Covid isolation on the fifth day if they get a negative test (carried out at a testing centre). Otherwise the isolation period continues until the 10th day, or until they get a negative test.

Close contacts of people infected with Covid (including household contacts) no longer have to quarantine in Germany, but they are advised to get tested regularly and monitor for symptoms, as well as reduce contacts for five days. 

As ever, check with your local authority for the detailed rules.

Travel

Germany recently provisionally dropped almost all of its Covid travel restrictions, making it much easier to enter the country. 

The changes mean that entry into Germany is now allowed for all travel purposes, including tourism. The move makes travel easier – and cheaper – for people coming from non-EU countries, particularly families who may have needed multiple Covid tests for children. 

People also no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test against Covid before coming to Germany – the so-called 3G rule. 

However, if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ region, tougher rules are brought in. 

It is likely that travel rules could be reinstated again after summer or if the Covid situation gets worse so keep an eye on any developments. 

READ ALSO: Germany drops Covid entry restrictions for non-EU travellers

Vaccine mandate

The mandate making Covid vaccinations compulsory for medical staff remains in place. A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote in April

READ ALSO: Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health care workers

Workplaces

Masks are no longer mandatory in workplaces, unless it is in a setting where more risks groups are, such as hospitals or care homes. 

The government no longer requires people to work from home, but employers and employees can reach their own ‘home office’ arrangement.

Tests are also no longer mandatory, but workplaces can offer their employees regular tests. 

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