Calls grow for Germany to offer ‘step-by-step plan’ to exit lockdown

Ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting with state leaders on Wednesday, calls are growing for a clear road map out of Germany's shutdown.

Calls grow for Germany to offer 'step-by-step plan' to exit lockdown
People walking past a closed hostel in Berlin on February 5th. Photo: DPA

The German government earlier this week dampened hopes that a step-by-step loosening of lockdown measures would be agreed at this stage.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said the government would resist any attempts by state leaders to start relaxing the measures “until we are clearly under an incidence of 50 (new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days)”.

But the calls for proposals on easing of measures are getting louder.

READ ALSO: German government dampens hopes of relaxing lockdown ahead of crunch talks

On Tuesday the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 3,379 new Covid-19 infections and 481 deaths within 24 hours. The number of new infections per 100,000 people in seven days stood at 72.8.

Despite all the uncertainties in the pandemic – including worries over new variants – Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller said the population needed to be shown that easing of restrictions will happen soon.

“We are in a critical phase,” he said. “On the one hand, the declining infection figures give reason for hope, but the diffuse information and findings on the mutants cause us great concern.

“However, we want to and must give people a perspective for possible easing of steps, if the infection figures indicate this.”

“I therefore expect from the federal-state meeting on Wednesday that, despite the uncertainties, we can at least agree on a joint framework plan, if possible coupled to incidences and the utilisation of our intensive care units,” the Social Democrat politician said.

Germany closed restaurants, hotels, culture and leisure centres in November, before adding schools and non-essential shops to the list in December.

Households are allowed to meet with one other person, and the government has urged people to reduce contact to the minimum.

READ ALSO: How Germany's Covid-19 shutdown has made this winter tougher than most

'Clear opening scenario'

On Wednesday, Chancellor Merkel, representing the government, and the 16 federal state leaders will discuss the next steps of the crisis.

The current measures are due to expire on February 14th. However, the government will push to extend the shutdown until at least the end of February.

Germany's business community has repeatedly called for a fixed step-by-step plan for ending lockdown measures.

“From the employers' point of view, it would be incomprehensible to continue the restrictive measures without finally identifying a clear and rule-based opening scenario that is also supported by a broad majority,” Rainer Dulger, President of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) on Tuesday.

Some states, including Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia and Saarland have developed their own road maps out of the shutdown which they want to discuss at the summit.

The FDP parliamentary group will also put forward a step-by-step proposal for opening up.

Health Minister Spahn and Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, however, have rejected the idea of exiting the shutdown at this stage. The virus is too dynamic at the moment for that, they argued.

Others agree. Hamburg's mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) told RND: “Opening steps may only be taken when the influence of the mutations on the incidence of infection can be assessed. That is currently not yet the case.”

He also called for a coordinated and consistent approach between the federal and state governments “to prevent a renewed relapse in the sense of a third wave after the current decline in infection figures”.

One of the most important topics on Wednesday's agenda will be regarding the future handling of the schools.

On Monday Chancellor Merkel reportedly told her party members that a long-term strategy for schools and Kitas would be discussed at the meeting.

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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.”