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EXPLAINED: What might a new lockdown in Germany look like?

On Wednesday Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state leaders will thrash out a plan to try and slow the spread of coronavirus. What kind of lockdown ideas will be on the table?

EXPLAINED: What might a new lockdown in Germany look like?
A shop sign in Pfarrkirchen, Bavaria reads: 'We are also there for you in lockdown'. Photo: DPA

Why the change of  heart?

Leading politicians have so far said they want to avoid nationwide action like a lockdown.

But with spiralling coronavirus rates, and two districts in Germany currently under lockdown (Rottal-Inn and Berchtesgadener Land near the Austrian border), authorities are thinking about stronger action.

Currently in Germany, 105 districts have a seven-day incidence rate of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people, reported Welt on Tuesday. Eight places have even clocked up an incidence rate of more than 200.

Germany reported 11,409 new coronavirus cases within 24 hours on Tuesday. One week ago the number was 6,868.

To try and flatten the curve of the first coronavirus wave in spring, the federal and state governments took the unprecedented decision to close schools and daycare centres as well as cultural and sports facilities.

Most restaurants, shops and service providers had to close or limit operations, and gatherings in churches, sports clubs and the like were prohibited. No more than two people from different households were allowed to meet. At the peak of the lockdown, residents were not allowed to leave their homes unless for essential reasons like exercise or shopping.

So would this happen again? Is the whole of Germany now facing a lockdown like in the Bavarian districts?

'Lockdown light'

Earlier in the month, the government agreed a tier system for dealing with Covid-19: when districts reach thresholds, such as 50 new infections per 100,000 people in seven days, they must implement tougher measures.

But Merkel acknowledged then that this might not be enough to slow down the spread. The issue is that contact tracing becomes impossible if the number of infections rises too quickly. There is also the fear that hospitals will become overburdened leading to more people dying.

According to German media reports, Merkel is in favour of a so-called “lockdown light”, with an emphasis on keeping schools and Kitas open except in the worst affected areas. 

READ ALSO: Merkel set to 'push for lockdown light across Germany'

This kind of action would involve closing restaurants and bars, and putting strict limits on private and public gatherings . Shops could remain open with further restrictions in place.

Angela Merkel will meet with state leaders on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

However, there are question marks over whether the hospitality industry significantly contributes to the spread of coronavirus. The Robert Koch Institute has so far not singled out the catering trade as a main driver of the pandemic. The RKI instead has said social gatherings and travel have been major issues when it comes to outbreaks.

Merkel has underlined several times that she wants to avoid excluding the elderly and other vulnerable people from social and public life in Germany. So it's likely that this route – urging those more at risk of contracting a severe course of Covid-19 to isolate – will not be followed.

Short, sharp lockdown

Another idea is a short but tough shutdown, which has been put forward by deputy state premier of Baden-Württemberger Thomas Strobl, of the Christian Democrats (CDU). If the figures continue to develop upwards, measures “such as closing down everything for a week” should be considered, Strobl told the news portal The Pioneer.

In contrast to the 'lockdown light', schools, daycare centres and shops would have to close. This way, infection numbers could be brought to a standstill, said Strobl.

Moreover, border controls would have to be re-established – something Germany has wanted to avoid up until now. The advantage of this “very, very tough” solution would be the time limit, according to the CDU politician. After action like this, Christmas shopping and a festive reunion with the family would be possible again, he said.

Previously, the head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Marcel Fratzscher, had also brought a “short, sharp lockdown” into play. “No trading for two or three weeks – and then it can start again,” Fratzscher said on Monday to broadcaster SWR. The economy could return to normality relatively quickly after this kind of action, he said.

‘Circuit breaker’ lockdown

Social Democrat (SPD) health expert Karl Lauterbach has also called for a temporary shutdown in the near future to stop the exponential growth of coronavirus infections.

This would involve a two week lockdown, closing bars, restaurants, gyms and other leisure facilities. He said this would prevent a full lockdown in three to four weeks time.

Speaking to the Phoenix TV station, Lauterbach said: “We need breathing space, a kind of 'breakwater' lockdown. We need to get out of the exponential growth, otherwise we'll be back to where we were in spring in three weeks, only we'll be facing a long winter and have to go into a complete lockdown.”

There is no alternative, he warned, exponential growth does not allow for a “third option”.

Lauterbach said Germany needed only to look at neighbouring countries like the Czech Republic to see which way the pandemic was going.

“We are only ten to 15 days behind,” Lauterbach warned.

Schools and care facilities, should be kept open as long as possible, he said “We must fight for this,” said the SPD politician. “We need a massive reduction of contacts in the next few weeks to stop the growth,” said Lauterbach.

Plan C – voluntary lockdown

Another initiative called “Plan C” may also be discussed. This would involve a 'voluntary lockdown' by people in Germany for seven days a month. During this time they would be asked to limit their contacts significantly.

After that people would be able to live relatively normally, with masks and distance rules. A new lockdown week would follow after three weeks. The rhythm is aimed at interrupting the second wave constantly.

The concept originates from a group put together by the Mainz-based crisis and communication consultant Marcus Ewald. He told broadcaster ZDF that doctors, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs from all over Germany are part of the group.

The first 'voluntary lockdown' is proposed to take place from November 8th to 14th, Ewald said.

READ ALSO: Analysis: How and why coronavirus cases are going up around Germany

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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.”