UPDATE: Germany plans for tougher local lockdowns to ward off second coronavirus wave

Germany's federal and regional governments on Thursday agreed on tougher, more targeted lockdown measures to contain local outbreaks and ward off the threat of a second coronavirus wave.

UPDATE: Germany plans for tougher local lockdowns to ward off second coronavirus wave
People entering a train in Hamburg wearing face masks in April during the country-wide shutdown. Photo: DPA

The new rules allow for a ban on travel “in and out of the affected areas” to limit the spread of the virus, according to an agreement adopted by federal and local authorities.

It comes as countries across the world are reimposing curbs on public life in response to a surge in new infections.

Germany, which has been less affected by the pandemic than many of its neighbours, aims to respond to new clusters with hyper-local lockdowns and rapid contact tracing and testing, rather than blanket lockdowns of whole
towns or districts.

The need for clear rules was highlighted last month when a Covid-19 outbreak at a slaughterhouse in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia led to Germany's first renewed lockdowns, covering two neighbouring districts.

However a local court later ruled that the lockdown was too broad, and locals from the districts on holiday elsewhere in Germany complained about being turned away from their accommodation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday voiced support for travel bans in and out of coronavirus hotspots.

She said that it was “better for citizens” to have certainty rather than being denied entry to a hotel upon arrival.

READ ALSO: Germany reports over 200,000 coronavirus cases since start of pandemic

Calling in the army

The text agreed on Thursday states that a travel ban should be imposed “if the numbers continue to rise and there's no certainty that the chain of infection has been broken” in the affected area.

Anyone wanting to leave a localised lockdown for another state must be able to show a negative coronavirus test that is less than 48 hours old, the agreement said.

Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun told the ZDF broadcaster that the goal was to fight the virus with “faster, smaller and more precise” curbs rather than the larger lockdowns that have caused such economic devastation.

He said the military could even be called in to help ensure locals in an affected area get tested as quickly as possible.

Germany's Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB) welcomed the agreement, with CEO Gerd Landsberg calling local lockdowns “the right way forward”.

“This also means that lockdowns are not drawn out over months or weeks, but ideally last only a few days,” he told the Funke media group.

The new rules also come as Germany is anxiously eyeing the return of holidaymakers from abroad this summer, fearing they could be bringing the virus back with them.

Video footage of German tourists partying in Spain's Mallorca – without face masks or keeping the recommended 1.5 metres apart – has caused particular alarm.

'Reckless behaviour'

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Germans not to undo the progress made in combatting the virus.

“Such behaviour is not just dangerous, but inconsiderate towards all those who would like to enjoy their holiday safely,” he told the Funke group.

“We've only just managed to open borders in Europe again. We must not jeopardise this with reckless behaviour.”

Meanwhile, the Tönnies slaughterhouse that was the source of the local outbreak in North Rhine-Westphalia reopened on Thursday after four weeks, prompting a protest from Greenpeace activists against mass meat production.

Germany has recorded just over 200,000 coronavirus cases to date, and 9,078 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

The country has credited early, widespread testing and its world-class healthcare system for keeping the fatality rate relatively low.

Germans have also generally complied with rules on social distancing and wearing face masks.

READ ALSO: How face masks have helped slow down the spread of coronavirus in Germany

More than 15 million people have also downloaded Germany's coronavirus warning app aimed at alerting people who've been in close proximity to an infected person.

Member comments

  1. Excellent Plan.
    But what about all those Idiots coming back from Mallorca – surely they intend to test them ON ARRIVAL in Germany. Telling people like that to self-isolate, for instance, will not work; they are obviously going to run around everywhere soon as they get back, as they just don’t care

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now