Germany should expect ‘five more months’ of strict coronavirus measures, minister warns

Germany may see four to five more months of coronavirus restrictions, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Sunday, dashing hopes of a quick end to a partial lockdown introduced two weeks ago.

Germany should expect 'five more months' of strict coronavirus measures, minister warns
A statue decorated with a protective mask in a closed store window in Weimar, Germany, on November 14, 2020. Christof STACHE / AFP

“The infection numbers are still far too high — much higher even than a fortnight ago,” Altmaier told the Bild an Sonntag newspaper ahead of a government meeting on Monday to assess the progress of the restrictions.

Germany went into partial lockdown in early November, closing bars, restaurants, gyms and other recreational facilities but keeping schools and shops open.

The number of new infections per day has since slowed but remains high, with a record of more than 23,000 reported on Friday.

“We will have to live with considerable precautions and restrictions for at least the next four to five months,” Altmaier said.

“Many people are now understandably hoping for a loosening (of restrictions), that restaurants or cinemas will reopen. But in view of the still far too high infection rates, we have little room for manoeuvre.”

The restrictions agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states are provisionally in place until the end of November.

But the leaders will meet again on Monday to decide whether to extend them or to introduce sharper restrictions.

READ MORE: Is Germany set to tighten shutdown measures?

With more than 300,000 schoolchildren in quarantine, calls have been growing for schools to shut or at least move more of their lessons online.

“We are entering a situation where school operation is becoming a high risk for children, teachers, parents and grandparents,” MP and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach said in an interview with the Funke media group.

Several demonstrations against the restrictions were held on Saturday across Germany, including one in Frankfurt where water cannons were used against counter-demonstrators.

A protester reacts as police use water cannons to disperse a demonstration against coronavirus restrictions on November 14, 2020, in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany. Yann Schreiber / AFP

Germany has registered a total of 790,503 coronavirus cases and 12,485 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has soared from just over 360 in early October to more than 3,300 currently.

Neighbouring Austria, which also imposed a partial lockdown two weeks ago, announced on Saturday that schools and non-essential shops will close from Tuesday.


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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.”