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COVID-19: ESSENTIAL INFO

Germany to enter strict Easter lockdown to fight ‘new pandemic’

Germany will enter a strict shutdown for five days over Easter as it fights soaring infection rates fuelled by variants in a "new pandemic", Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday after marathon talks with regional leaders.

Germany to enter strict Easter lockdown to fight 'new pandemic'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference following talks via video conference with Germany's state premiers on the extension of the current lockdown, at the Chancellery in Berlin on March 23, 2021. Photo: Michael Kappeler/AFP

As well as extending existing measures including keeping cultural, leisure and sporting facilities shut through to April 18, Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers agreed a tougher shutdown between April 1 and 5.

Almost all shops will be closed during the five days, and religious services will be moved online over Easter. Only grocers will be allowed to open on Saturday April 3.

“The situation is serious. Case numbers are rising exponentially and intensive care beds are filling up again,” said Merkel.

The British variant has become the dominant strain circulating in Germany, she said, noting that “we are in a new pandemic.”

“Essentially, we have a new virus…it is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer,” the veteran leader said.

Gridlocked talks

Europe’s biggest economy had begun easing restrictions, first reopening schools in late February, before allowing hairdressers and some shops to resume business in March.

But Berlin and the federal states were forced to row back on relaxations this week as new infection numbers rose exponentially.

On Monday, the national incidence rate reached 107.3 cases per 100,000 people, with more than 7,700 new cases and 50 deaths reported.

Merkel and regional leaders agreed at the last round of talks that authorities would tighten the screws again if that rate struck 100 over three days.

“It is absolutely right that we are hitting the emergency brake,” said Merkel.

But the tougher curbs did not come easily.

Negotiations between the regional leaders of Germany’s 16 states and Merkel were gridlocked for several hours over the thorny issue of whether to allow domestic holidays to take place over the Easter school holidays.

Some regional leaders had argued it made little sense to allow people to fly out to the Spanish island of Mallorca for their holidays while banning residents from taking overnight stays in their own state.

But finally, the leaders agreed to “appeal urgently to all citizens to refrain from non-essential travel within the country and also abroad — also with regard to the upcoming Easter holidays.”

Berlin had also struck a deal with air carriers to ensure that all travellers returning to Germany would be tested, Merkel said.

Export ban

The chancellor added that Germany was “in a race to vaccinate” as the country struggles to accelerate its inoculation campaign.

Dogged by supply issues and mistrust over AstraZeneca’s jab, Germany’s vaccination campaign has been sluggish compared to the British or US programmes.

On Tuesday, Merkel said she would support her former defence minister and current EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s threat to block AstraZeneca vaccines produced in the bloc from being exported.

“I support Commission President Ursula von der Leyen,” said Merkel.

“We have a problem with AstraZeneca,” she added.

European officials are furious that AstraZeneca has been able to deliver its UK contract in full while falling short on its supplies to the EU.

In her tough warning to the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant last Saturday, von der Leyen said: “That’s the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start delivering to other countries.”

Member comments

  1. They have had literally months to prepare for this “new pandemic”, but haven´t. Just simply plodded on with endless variations upon the same theme, watching from afar, whilst across the water this variant has been adequately dealt with (so far) and simultaneously the UK population far more quickly vaccinated than here.
    I look forward to receiving my vaccination sometime in mid 2025 at this rate.

  2. The narrow minded, arrogant leaders who will accept no blame. They have brought us to our knees, I have personally been closed for 5 months. No assistance and no advice how we will come out this. Germany has shown its true colours again. Unable to deal with a crisis.

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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