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Merkel calls on Germans to avoid travel to coronavirus risk zones

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on people in Germany to avoid journeys to areas deemed coronavirus high risk.

Merkel calls on Germans to avoid travel to coronavirus risk zones
Angela Merkel and Markus Söder on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Merkel spoke out after a meeting between the federal and state governments on Thursday.

The federal and state leaders spent more than five hours discussing how to tighten coronavirus measures in the face of rising infection rates.

The new regulations agreed on include a minimum fine of €50 for anyone caught without a face mask in places where wearing one is compulsory, such as in shops and on public transport.

Germany also plans to extend a ban on large events from the end of October until December 31st. It will apply to everything from festivals and concerts to large sporting events with spectators.

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The corona pandemic is a “challenge”, Merkel said after the conference held online. So far, Germany has “come through the pandemic well”, she added.

However, the increase in infections over the summer months was being taken very seriously. “Additional loosening of restrictions cannot be justified,” said Merkel.

She cited private parties and increased holiday-related travel as the reasons for increased infection rates.

“Corona is fully back in Germany,” said Bavarian state premier Markus Söder at the press conference. 

“The numbers are going up too high too soon,” he said, adding that Germany had to prevent a “second lockdown”.

Merkel warns against travel to risk areas

Merkel explained that many of the cases were linked to people returning from risk areas. She warned against people in Germany taking non-essential trips to areas classed as high risk, such as the US and India.

“We have decided today, and this is new, to call for travel to designated risk areas to be avoided wherever possible,” Merkel said.

For months now, people returning from high-risk areas have had to quarantine after travel.

The federal and state governments appealed for people to comply with the quarantine obligations. Checks by local authorities will be stepped up and fines will be imposed if people are caught flouting rules.

“Those who violate the obligation will be subject to severe fines,” said Merkel.

Meanwhile, anyone who knowingly goes on an avoidable trip to a risk area and suffers a loss of earnings due to the quarantine obligation will not be paid compensation in lost wages in future.

READ MORE: Germany agrees nationwide €50 fines for flouting mask rules

Germany earlier this month introduced free mandatory tests for travellers returning from high-risk areas and free voluntary tests for those coming back from elsewhere.

But following concerns that German labs were becoming overburdened, the government will scrap the free tests for those returning from non-risk areas from September 15th. 

Returnees from risk areas will have to go into quarantine and will not be allowed to take a test before the fifth day after their return.

This is to stop an infection from remaining undetected during the last days of the stay abroad. The quarantine can be ended after a negative result of this test. Bavaria will continue to provide free tests, also for returnees from non-risk areas, until at least October 1st.

The government is also set to examine whether people returning from travel should pay for the test themselves.

Differing stances

Under Germany's federal system each state has the right to impose its own coronavirus regulations, leading to a patchwork of rules which many say leads to confusion.

The current penalties on flouting mask rules for instance vary wildly, from €40 in Hamburg and €250 in Bavaria to no fines at all in Brandenburg.

Federal and state governments – with the exception of Saxony-Anhalt – agreed on a minimum fine of €50 for people who violate the obligation to wear a mask.

Saxony-Anhalt's state premier Reiner Haseloff said his state was instead enforcing a ban on public transport for passengers without a face covering.

Private party numbers to be looked at again

Private social gatherings in Germany should be held outdoors when possible – and have as few participants as possible. Merkel and the state leaders were unable to agree on an upper limit on the number of people at gatherings in private homes.

Originally, the government had proposed 25 people as a limit.

“Depending on the regional occurrence of infection, restrictions are to be imposed on private celebrations, for example by lowering the maximum number of participants,” the resolution states.

“The states have very different ideas, which could not be brought together today,” Merkel said. But she wants to “continue discussing the topic”.

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POLITICS

IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

G7 leaders are meeting in Bavaria to discuss important issues including Russia's war on Ukraine and the food crisis. The event is known for producing memorable pictures. Here's a look at the best images and tweets so far.

IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

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The Group of Seven wealthy nations is holding their annual summit in the stunning surroundings of the Bavarian Alps. 

The world leaders are engaged in talks at the Schloss Elmau with a focus on Russia’s war on Ukraine, climate change, energy, the global food crisis and rising inflation. 

The G7 gatherings are known known for producing some memorable photos and amusing moments, and this year is no exception. Here’s a look at the best so far. 

When the G7 summit started on Sunday, the southern state of Bavaria became the standout attraction. 

Leaders of the nations involved – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA – were given traditional Bavarian welcomes. 

Spearheaded by Bavarian premier Markus Söder, the leaders were greeted by people clad in Bavarian costumes, such as the dirndl. 

It sparked heated debates on how Germany is portrayed to the rest of the world.  

READ ALSO: Can Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Journalist Mathieu von Rohr said on Twitter: “It’s hard to imagine what Söder would have done to Germany’s image in the world as chancellor.”

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costumes after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costume after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th.

The left wing newspaper Taz on Monday led with a front page that included this headline: “Finally, indigenous peoples at the G7 summit”.

READ ALSO: Why Bavaria does politics differently to the rest of Germany

The photo of US President Joe Biden signing his name in the Bavarian guest book to Germany produced lots of good captions. 

Nathan Ma poked fun at Germany’s infamous overly complicated contracts that are hard to get out of.

Commentators in Germany have also been making their views known about the events at the summit. 

German broadcaster BR said in an opinion article that the opening G7 event was “like a Monty Python sketch”.

Writer Max Büch said: “Yes, it’s embarrassing that Joe Biden is being coerced by Markus Söder to sign the guestbook at the airport.”

He added: “But people in traditional costume are not embarrassing per se. Even if taz’s ‘indigenous peoples at the G7 summit’ is meant satirically, the title hits a very true core of the image that the rest of Germany still has of Bavaria.”

The southern German traditions continued with Schuhplattler, a traditional style of folk dance popular in the regions of Bavaria and Tyrol. 

“Bavaria makes up perhaps 10 percent of Germany,” one journalist said in another tweet on the Schuhplattler video. “But 90 percent of people abroad think this is all of us.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder defended the opening ceremony. 

He said on Twitter: “Bavaria is the land of homeland and custom: many thanks to our traditional costume associations, musicians and mountain riflemen for their support in welcoming the G7 heads of state. They present the Free State and our traditions with great pride. It was a great backdrop.”

Like every year, the pictures of G7 leaders joking around and getting up, close and personal have also been commented on.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler
 
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau.
 
We’d love to be a fly on the wall for the private conversations being held between the leaders. Here German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on in amusement at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th.

The lack of women G7 leaders was also commented on. 

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