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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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.”