German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country's 16 state leaders last week extended the lockdown measures until February 14th. But there is still no concrete plan on what happens next, and how public life will reopen, signalling that the restrictions will continue.
But calls are growing for an exit strategy. Germany has been in a state of shutdown since the beginning of November, with measures progressively getting tougher.
Currently restaurants, bars, cafes, leisure and cultural facilities are closed. People have been urged to work from home and there are strict contact restrictions.
Schools are closed or have moved to online teaching.
The German Association of Towns and Municipalities urged the government to put together a a clear plan on how and when measures will be eased.
A “graduated exit strategy from the lockdown” is needed, Chief Executive Gerd Landsberg told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
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Merkel has stated that schools and daycare centres (Kitas) would be the first to reopen after a lockdown. However, she is concerned about the current situation, and it doesn't look like her thoughts are on relaxing the measures.
That's because although Germany's coronavirus numbers are decreasing, there is the threat of the new Covid-19 variants.
“We must act now,” Merkel said, referring to the new virus mutations when she announced the tightened measures on January 19th. She said there was still time to prevent the danger and try and avoid the numbers rising significantly again.
Meanwhile, in an internal video chat between the heads of the CDU/CSU parliamentary groups on Monday, Merkel is said to have expressed concern about the current situation, Bild reported.
“We are living in a powder keg because of the mutations,” the Chancellor is reported to have said, adding: “The thing has slipped away from us.”
'Dark cloud of serious danger'
Chairperson of the Federal Association of German Medical Officers, Ute Teichert, also urged caution.
“We can't start easing up again at an incidence of 100, 70 or 50,” she told the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe.
Germany is aiming to get below an incidence of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week.
On Monday evening the seven-day incidence in Germany was around 111 according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). This number has been falling for several days.
A peak was reached on December 22nd when the nationwide incidence hit 197.6.
In the end, the incidence must be below 10, Teichert said. “As a target, I consider a zero-Covid strategy, i.e. an orientation towards an incidence in the single-digit range, to be correct.” Especially with regard to highly infectious virus variants, it is important to keep contacts low, she said.
The variants initially detected in the UK (B.1.1.7) and South Africa (B.1.351) are considered highly infectious. “We have in the background the dark cloud of a very serious danger,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert in Berlin on Monday.
Politicians therefore view mass vaccinations as a race against time.
The head of the Vaccination Commission (Stiko), Thomas Mertens, said he was concerned about the EU supply cuts by the manufacturers BioNTech and AstraZeneca.
“This is bad because we will reach our vaccination goals later. It is not so much a question of cuts, but rather of production losses,” Mertens told the Rheinische Post.
But he warned against changing the vaccination strategy now: “On the contrary, we have to vaccinate people at risk of severe illness, hospitalisation and death as quickly as possible,” he said.