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NEWSLETTER

Will Germany continue to reopen public life amid rising Covid-19 numbers?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premieres are set to meet on Monday March 22nd to discuss whether to further reduce lockdown restrictions. Yet a spike in cases is causing doubt on whether more re-openings will go as planned.

Will Germany continue to reopen public life amid rising Covid-19 numbers?
Tables at a closed restaurant in the centre of Munich on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

According to a report by Business Insider, the federal government and states are considering suspending a planned next step for reopening public life – which was set to go into effect on March 22nd.

According to the agreed-upon plan, restaurants could open for outdoor dining, and there could also be re-openings of opera houses, concert halls and cinemas with a 7-day incidence of up to 50 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.

Non-contact sports – which were not clearly defined in the plan – indoors and outdoors could also be possible again. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: This is Germany’s five-step plan to head out of lockdown

With an incidence rate between 50 and 100, these relaxations would also be allowed if customers or guests present a negative rapid Covid-19 test or make an appointment beforehand.

However, the worsening infection situation and the uncertainty surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine has caused the Chancellery and state representatives to rethink the move.

Instead, the lockdown, which has so far been extended until March 28th, is likely to be extended again, possibly for another four weeks, reported Business Insider.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Germany have been slowly but noticeably rising over the past month. The average 7-day incidence per 100,000 inhabitants rose last month from 60.1 (on February 18th) to 85.6 as of Wednesday. 

There are also fears over virus variants. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the significantly more contagious viral mutation “B.1.1.7 represents the most frequent SARS-CoV-2 variant detected in Germany”.

What steps have already been taken?

At the last federal-state meeting on March 3rd, Merkel and state leaders decided on a five-step plan to begin reopening public life. 

The first steps have already been implemented, from the opening of hair salons at the beginning of March, to opening flower and home appliance stores with strict distancing measures, and even retail in some states through an appointment system.

Berlin on Wednesday became the first German state to say it would pause opening public life in light of rising numbers in the capital and fears over virus variants.

READ ALSO: Berlin becomes first German state to pause lockdown relaxation

Will all states keep to the emergency brake agreed with Merkel?

Merkel and the state leaders also agreed on a step-by-step lifting of restrictions at the March 3rd meeting. But built into this process was a so-called Notbremse – an emergency brake which local and regional governments could pull if the 7-day incidence were to rise above 100.

According to the Notbremse, if there is an incidence of more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents for more than three days, the previous opening measures will be withdrawn. Currently, 124 districts around the country are already exceeding the 100 incidence mark.

However, it is uncertain whether all states will adhere to the Notbremse. Berlin’s neighbouring state of Brandenburg, for example, doubled its incidence value to 200 only a few days after the March 3rd summit. 

Yet government spokesman Stefan Seibert remained firm that the federal-state decision must be implemented, “not only in its pleasant passages, but also in its difficult ones”, he said in Berlin on Monday.

“Rising incidences, rising case numbers, especially in the younger population, no more decline in the occupancy of intensive care beds – these are unpleasant developments to which we must all react together.”

What will be the other deciding factors in extending lockdown?

The states and federal governments are also likely to base their decisions on next opening steps on the availability of vaccines, and how comprehensively they can be rolled out. 

The vaccination summit of the federal government and the states, which was initially planned for Wednesday, has been cancelled and may be held on Thursday or Friday, as soon as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives its opinion regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine

Until now, the EMA had said that 30 cases of brain thrombosis in five million vaccinated people across Europe corresponded to the proportion of the total European population – meaning that there was no above-average risk. 

However, several European countries – including Germany on Monday – suspended the use of the inoculation until further findings emerge. Now the Bundesrepublik will decide whether to continue using the vaccine or whether to work out a contingency plan, including for those who have already received their first jab. 

It’s also up in the air if school and Kita openings will continue as planned for March. Different states are working on different approaches, including averting closures through regular testing, regardless of the infection situation.

READ ALSO: Are all German schools really going to open again before Easter?

Member comments

  1. This 3rd wave is NOT caused by people going into shops etc. That is when people DO behave. It is the going to other people’s houses, meeting in Parks, having parties that is the problem. And nothing but a full lockdown has any chance to stop that. Someone really needs to explain this to the Politicians & Scientists, all living in their own world.

    1. Indeed. With now the enforcement of medical-grade masks, and limiting number of people in shops to prevent over-crowding, it is unfair to continue to “punish” businesses.

      In comparison to other Asian countries who are performing way better, contact tracing in Germany is still decades behind. Scanning barcodes upon entry should be the new normal through apps like the Corona-Warn-App.

  2. An extremely slow vaccination program, Tens of thousand unused vaccine shots in fridges, and now an over reaction to some side effect cases. How about getting your shit together the German health system and actually start saving thousands of lives with an effective vaccination program.

  3. Oh yes lets track people every time they go out. The man responsible for the invention of PCR tests said in an interview that they were not suitable at all for Covid testing. What a pity he isn’t still alive to repeat his statement. Funny how every time things start to ease along comes the 24/7 fearmongering. Of course we dont hear the dissenting voices of the many medical experts who are speaking out because what they are saying doesn’t fit the narrative does it.

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COVID-19 RULES

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.”

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