Will coronavirus hotspots in Germany face stricter measures at Christmas?

Politicians around Germany are pushing for stricter measures in parts of the country with high coronavirus infection rates, especially as Christmas and New Year's Eve approach.

Will coronavirus hotspots in Germany face stricter measures at Christmas?
A woman with a face mask walks through the centre of Passau on Monday morning. Photo: DPA

On Sunday, Bavaria became the first state to announce it would be imposing tougher shutdown measures due to continually high Covid-19 infection rates following five weeks of “lockdown light”.

Residents of the southern state would only be allowed to leave their home for essential reasons, and schools would be partially closed. 

READ ALSO: Bavaria to move into tougher lockdown ahead of Christmas

Now politicians around Germany are debating if other states and districts should follow Bavaria’s lead. 

What is the coronavirus situation around Germany?

On Sunday evening, Helge Braun, head of the German Chancellery, confirmed the goal of keeping coronavirus infections in Germany below 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week. 

Northern Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein, the two states with the lowest infection rates, also joined the rest of Germany in exceeding the threshold.

There are also several districts which exceed the level of 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days. Saxony is particularly affected with a seven-day rate of 364.6. Berlin has also surpassed the mark with a rate of 205.2.

On Monday morning, Germany recorded 12,712 infections in the last 24 hours, and 129,884 in the last seven days. 

This graphic shows the coronavirus hotspots around Germany. Graph: DPA

What are the current rules?

Last week, the Germany-wide lockdown was extended until January 10th, but gatherings of up to ten people plus children from December 23rd to January 1st were permitted.

READ ALSO: Germany's partial lockdown extended until January 10th

Bavaria’s state government decided on Sunday that meetings beyond two households with up to a maximum of ten people were only to be permitted from December 23rd until Boxing Day. Otherwise a maximum of five people from two households may meet. 

Baden-Württemberg already has a similar regulation.

In Berlin, a maximum of five people from different households are allowed to meet up over the entire holidays.

The heads of Germany’s 16 states are slated to meet on January 4th to discuss possible new measures. However, Bavarian State premiere Markus Söder (CSU) said it would “probably” be necessary to hold another meeting before Christmas.

At the end of November, the federal and state governments had only generally agreed that even stricter measures would be taken in cases of particularly high infections, or a seven-day incidence rate of over 200.

What will Christmas look like around the rest of Germany?

Other states are also considering undoing some of the loosened coronavirus measures over the holidays. Saxony's State Premier Michael Kretschmer (CDU) told public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday evening that there would have to be “readjustments” in the hotspots.

He added that the state government will “certainly make further decisions in the course of this week.”

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach (SPD) told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that he recommended that stores in Germany should close after Christmas “for at least two weeks.” 

Hesse's state premier Volker Bouffier told public broadcaster ARD that he believes a curfew is necessary for coronavirus rates above 200. 

Thuringia's Minister President Bodo Ramelow (left) told Funke media group that: “There will be no relief for Christmas and New Year's Eve,” adding that the state cabinet would convene on Tuesday to discuss further steps. 

Saarland's state premier Tobias Hans (CDU) warned in the Augsburger Allgemeine on Saturday that, “One thing is clear: We must not take any risks, not even on New Year's Eve.”

Braun advocated restricting Christmas visits only until December 28th, and not New Year’s Eve as originally planned.

He said that leeway until December 31st was intended for people who have to work over Christmas. But this regulation should not be a gateway for millions of others to celebrate Silvester parties, he added. 

Politicians are concerned not only about the continuing high number of new infections, but also about the increased number of deaths due to coronavirus infections. 

The highest figure so far was registered last Wednesday with 487 recorded deaths. 

“We are talking a lot about how we celebrate Christmas right now,” Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) told RTL on Sunday. “These people will not celebrate Christmas at all anymore”.

The CDU politician also called for more solidarity among people in Germany. 

While he observed that some people were “standing at Glühwein stands with 40 or 50 people”, nursing staff were working around the clock at the same time and would give “everything to make it possible for people to survive”, said Spahn.

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Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.