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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.