How long will Germany’s tough lockdown measures be in place?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state premiers are set to meet on Tuesday to discuss what happens after January 10th. Will the Covid-19 restrictions be extended? Here's what we can expect.

How long will Germany's tough lockdown measures be in place?
A sign ordering people to wear masks in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

What's the latest?

We are just a few days into 2021, but the coronavirus situation in Germany is still severe. And there are calls for the current lockdown measures, which are due to expire on January 10th, to be extended until the end of the month – or even longer.

On Monday Germany reported 9,847 new Covid-19 infections and 302 deaths within 24 hours.

However, due to reduced testing and delayed reports from health offices at the weekend and over the turn of the year, these figures are expected to rise. 

The nationwide average of the so-called seven-day incidence (the number of infections per 100,000 residents in seven days) was 139.4 on Monday morning.

Germany has been aiming for a seven-day incidence rate of 50 which would allow authorities to keep on top of contact tracing.

READ ALSO: Merkel warns Germany faces difficult times in 2021

So what is January looking like for people in Germany?

It seems certain that the lockdown measures, which have seen the closure of non-essential shops, schools and kindergartens throughout December, will be extended in some form.

Leisure and cultural facilities, along with restaurants, bars and cafes, have also been closed (except for takeaway food and drink) since the beginning of November as part of the so-called 'lockdown light' introduced then.

According to German media reports, state premiers agreed during a conference call on Saturday that the current Covid-19 restrictions should be extended.

But there are different views on how long it should go on for, if rules should be tougher, and what will happen to schools and daycare centres.

The states that have been hardest hit, including Bavaria, Saxony, Thuringia and Baden-Württemberg, are arguing to prolong the measures for three weeks until January 31st.

“The lockdown must be extended until the end of January,” Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder said.

“Premature easing would set us far back again. It's only in mid-January that we'll really know how Christmas and New Year's Eve have affected the infection figures. We must remain consistent and not give up too soon again.”

In response to a question about a possible extension after the end of the month, Söder said: “There can never be any guarantees about how things will continue.”

Söder's call came ahead of the meeting between the 16 state premiers and Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 5th to discuss the situation and how to move forward.

According to DPA, however, there are different demands.

Thuringia state premier Bodo Ramelow wants to tighten the lockdown in his state in view of the high infection levels.

He proposed stricter travel measures that would mean people couldn't go more than 15km from their home.

States which are not so affected are leaning towards a shorter two-week extension, before reviewing the situation.

What about schools and nurseries?

The issue of schools reopening to pupils is also a sticking point.

Hamburg mayor Peter Tschentscher told Welt am Sonntag called for more clarity.

He expects information from the federal government “on what scientific basis or data basis” there is for a blanket closure of Kitas and schools, and how doing that maintains the “essential functions of basic services and medical treatment capacities”.

Education ministers were set to discuss the situation on Monday, a day before the meeting. Above all, German authorities consider the opening of daycare centres and primary schools to be a priority, ahead of, for example, restaurants.

However, Söder warned against a “hasty opening of schools and daycare centres”.

“In view of the high infection figures, it would be irresponsible to simply send teachers and pupils back to school completely,” he said.

Particularly after the holidays, the danger of infection is high, he added.

Ramelow said that in Thuringia, limited regular operation of schools and Kindergartens was not planned again until February 1st.

In the conference call, states with high numbers of cases argued for keeping schools closed for the time being, while states with lower numbers want an earlier opening with alternate or distance teaching of higher classes.

READ ALSO: Is Germany set to extend shutdown?

What are other experts saying?

The president of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, also pleaded for an extension of the current restrictions.

The federal and state governments should add around four weeks on, he told the Rheinische Post. That would extend the restrictions until around February 2nd. “And I am not at all sure that that is the end of it,” Montgomery said.

Meanwhile, Social Democrats (SPD) health expert Karl Lauterbach called for a “consistent” lockdown with no time limit.

But he said the measures do not yet go far enough, particularly due to the threat of the new virus variant.

Currently people in Germany have only been urged to stay at home and avoid travel, although in very hard-hit areas like Saxony and Bavaria, curfews are in place.

Authorities could make the lockdown measures stricter by banning travel or introducing nationwide curfews.

“We have to reduce new infections more significantly than planned so far,” Lauterbach told the Passauer Neue Presse on Monday.

“An incidence value of 50 is not sufficient because in the future we will probably have to deal with a virus variant that is much more infectious than the one that has been widespread in Germany so far.”

The rate of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days must be reduced to 25, he said.

“The lockdown needs to continue – and should not be time limited – but should be directed towards the target value of 25,” Lauterbach said.

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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.”