Merkel proposes plan to gradually relax Covid-19 restrictions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has revealed how she would like to see the country open up public life as the number of Covid infections goes down.

Merkel proposes plan to gradually relax Covid-19 restrictions
Chancellor Angela Merkel and presenter Marietta Slomka during an interview for ZDF in the Federal Chancellery. Photo: DPA/Handout

In an interview with German broadcaster ZDF on Friday, Merkel outlined how Germany could open up step-by-step after the country reaches the goal of under 35 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in seven days.

She said there would be an “infection cycle” lasting a fortnight to monitor each opening step.

“Whenever we remain stable at (an incidence of) 35 for 14 days, and the previous opening step has not led to an increase in the number of cases, then you can take the next step.”

Merkel said she saw “three strands” to the restricted areas. First, the higher classes of schools, vocational schools and universities; second, private contacts – how many people you can meet – and third, culture, “group sports” as well as restaurants and hotels.

“We have to decide politically which opening steps from which strand we want next now,” Merkel said. This will then be discussed at the next federal-state talks on March 3rd, she added.

READ ALSO: The charts and maps that show Germany's coronavirus situation

Previously, authorities had aimed for a 7-day incidence of 50 new infections per 100,000 people for restrictions to be relaxed. But another target of 35 has been added. Why?

The Chancellor said 35 had been introduced as a precautionary number.

“If you go below that number, you can think about taking larger steps to open up the system. That's why we have linked this with the retail trade, the galleries and the museums,” she said.

Merkel said the country had to be “particularly vigilant” due to more contagious coronavirus variants.

The Chancellor said Germany had to work hard to avoid a third wave.

It depends “on us and clever opening steps on whether we get through the pandemic without a large-scale third wave or whether we are too careless and then perhaps have rising case numbers again, which I would like to avoid,” she said.

“We have a difficult time behind us now and we are still in the middle of it,” Merkel added. “But we have at least halved the number of cases in the last three and a half weeks. That means we are on a downward slope.”

However, Merkel said she believed the threshold of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days could soon be reached “if we still stick to the contact restrictions”.

“I believe we can reach the incidence as early as March 1st.”

'I did not have a good feeling in autumn'

In the interview, Merkel said she looked back critically at the approach taken by Germany last autumn, echoing what she said in the Bundestag on Thursday.

Measures were taken “too hesitantly”, said Merkel. “I did not have a good feeling at the time, but I supported the decision.”

The interview was published on the ZDF website on Friday afternoon.


German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab