Is Germany set to introduce tougher lockdown measures in January?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders are to meet earlier than planned to discuss whether tougher Covid measures are needed in Germany due to worries over new virus variants. Here's what we know so far.

Is Germany set to introduce tougher lockdown measures in January?
A sign saying masks must be worn on a Bayreuth street. Photo: DPA

What's happening?

Chancellor Angela Merkel will host fresh crisis talks next week on tougher measures to slow Germany's infection rate, her spokesman said Friday, reported AFP.

Merkel will discuss restrictions with leaders of Germany's 16 states on Tuesday, bringing forward a meeting initially scheduled for January 25th.

“The number of new infections remains far too high,” spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin, stressing the need for Germans to further reduce their social contacts.

He also said the government was taking “very seriously” concerns over a new virus strain that has emerged in Britain and is considered more contagious.

“All this is reason enough to further strengthen our efforts,” he added.

The current measures, which include households only being allowed to meet one other person, while most businesses are shut down, are in place initially until January 31st.

What might the tougher measures be?

Here are some of the proposed measures reportedly under discussion:

–  Border controls to protect against the virus variants, such as the mutation that originated in the UK, from spreading throughout Germany.

– A curfew is also under discussion.  This could mean that people would only be allowed to leave their homes for valid reasons (such as doctor's appointments, going to work and grocery shopping), and only at certain times of the day.

– Compulsory FFP2 masks in some public places are also being looked at. Bavaria recently ordered this measure. Residents there have to wear the masks in shops and on public transport from Monday.

– Some federal states are reportedly pushing for a 'home office' obligation that would force employers to let employees work from home if it is possible.

– Some states are also reportedly pushing for an extension of restrictions until the end of February.

– Merkel and some states have also been thinking about how to limit the number of passengers on public transport.

READ ALSO: German Covid-19 cases top 2 million as Merkel urges 'significantly tougher' measures

Does that mean Germany will certainly see these measures?

No. So far these are only a collection of proposals. None of the measures have been decided yet, and some of the proposals could be rejected. Decisions on new rules cannot be taken without the consent of the heads of states.

Meanwhile, according to several participants in a meeting, Merkel rejected a report in Bild newspaper that said the Chancellor's office was considering the suspension of local and long-distance public transport. The Chancellor reportedly said at the meeting that no one wanted to close down local public transport.

Rather, Merkel said that the public transport system should be relieved by more employees working more at home, and therefore further reducing contacts.

However, DPA reported on Friday that the government did not plan to introduce compulsory 'home office'.

Currently, “no mandatory regulation is on the agenda,” said Merkel's spokesman Seibert, adding: “Home office is not suitable for every profession, for every job.”

In general it does look possible that some extra restrictions will come into force or current rules will be tightened due to the high numbers and the concern over the variants spreading in Germany.

READ ALSO: 'Please stay at home': RKI boss issues urgent appeal to German residents

What's the reaction?

Saxony's state premier Michael Kretschmer said he expected consultations in the coming week.

“Completely shutting down kindergartens, locking down schools, really banning people from entering nursing homes if there is no negative rapid test – these are the kinds of things we have to discuss,” the CDU politician told broadcaster ZDF.

Kretschmer said it was important to look at public transport and limit the amount of people using it.

Thorsten Frei, the vice-chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, told Spiegel that Germany needed to consider whether a “complete lockdown of two to three weeks” was better than endless weeks of less stringent measures.

“This way we could contain the virus, prevent the spread of dangerous mutations and thus enable health offices to trace contacts again by drastically reducing the incidence,” he said.

The Greens in the Bundestag have a similar view.

“As long as the infection figures are not going down, the lockdown measures cannot be ended and further measures will be needed, especially in the workplace,” parliamentary group leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt told Spiegel.

She also called for  more “reliable aid” for people affected by the measures.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control has also suggested a stricter shutdown.

“The measures that we are taking now – for me they are not a complete lockdown, there are still too many exceptions,” RKI head Lothar Wieler told a press conference in Berlin on Thursday.

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder said the focus needed to be on the virus mutations and monitoring the spread in Germany, as well as extra measures.

“We need more test sites that can detect the mutation,” the CSU leader said.

“Furthermore, FFP2 masks and a consistent implementation of the current lockdown will help,” said Söder.

Söder did not want to predict whether hard lockdown measures would be needed for several more weeks. But, “I, too, remain on Team Caution,” he said.

What are the latest numbers?

The number of Covid-19 cases in Germany, with major concerns over the number of deaths. 

READ ALSO: Fact check – Does Germany have a higher coronavirus death rate than the US?

However, RKI boss Wieler said there does appear to be a positive trend. “The increase (in cases) is probably no longer as steep as in December,” he said on Thursday.

On Friday Germany's total coronavirus cases topped two million.

The country of more than 83 million added another 22,368 new cases over the past 24 hours, RKI reported, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 2,000,958.

Germany also logged another 1,113 Covid-19 fatalities, taking the overall death toll up to 44,994.

Member comments

  1. For those of us who live in rural areas with small populations where you can walk for ages without seeing another person. We dont need the same rules as the built up areas. I can go shopping at 1900 hours and there might be 3 or 4 people in the supermarket. The local bus service is mainly for the schools you hardly ever see anyone else on them.

  2. I 100% agree with Denise. There should be differing measures based on the area you live in, not strictly by the numbers infected but by the ability to remain socially distanced based on population and common sense.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.