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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 STATS

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

A wave of Covid infections in Germany is causing staff shortages as many people call in sick and isolate - including in hospitals. The number of Covid patients in intensive care is also increasing slightly.

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

Covid-19 infections are sweeping through the country this summer. On Tuesday, Germany reported 147,489 Covid cases within the latest 24 hour period, and 102 deaths.

The number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units in Germany rose to 1,000 on Sunday, and 1,062 on Monday, according to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI). The number of ICU patients hasn’t been at this level since mid-May.

At the last highest point – in December 2021 – just under 4,900 seriously ill patients were being treated with Covid-19 in ICUs, after which the figures dropped with phases where they plateaued. 

And now the increasing staff shortages – due to people getting Covid and having to isolate – is causing growing concern among hospitals and doctors, especially as experts believe it will get worse after summer. 

“We are receiving reports from all federal states that individual wards and departments are having to be closed, due to a lack of staff,” the head of the board of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

At times, emergency admissions are also being cancelled at rescue coordination centres. “This situation worries us considerably with a view to the upcoming autumn,” said Gaß.

READ ALSO: German politicians clash over Covid rules for autumn

Infection figures have risen sharply in recent weeks. The 7-day incidence on Tuesday stood at 687.7 infections per 100,000 people, but experts believe many cases are going unreported. 

“Although the occupancy rate in intensive care is only rising moderately, it is relatively high for a summer, and the beds available are becoming fewer and fewer due to the shortage of staff,” the scientific director of the ICU registry, Christian Karagiannidis, told the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

He said clinics and hospitals should work to allocate capacity across the country.

“This includes regional networks for the best possible distribution of patients by level of care,” he said. “Cooperation, but also relieving the burden on staff, will be the order of the day this autumn and winter,” said Karagiannidis, who also sits on the government’s council of experts team.

Germany’s Covid-19 rules still require that people who get Covid isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 10 days. The rules differ from state to state on how people can end the quarantine period. But health and care workers need to have a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken five days into isolation at the earliest before they can return to work, plus a prior 48-hour symptom-free period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

The German Foundation for Patient Protection rejected a demand to shorten the quarantine period. Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-chairman of the FDP, had proposed people should be able to take a test after only three days to leave isolation.

This “fuels the uncontrolled spread of corona”, said Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the foundation. “That is why the isolation period for corona-positive patients must be extended to 10 days,” Brysch recommend, adding: “This may only be shortened if a PCR test is negative.”

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