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ANGELA MERKEL

BREAKING: Germany’s Easter lockdown ‘to be overturned as Merkel concedes mistake’

Chancellor Merkel has decided to tear up the plan for a hard lockdown over Easter after it came in for huge criticism from within her own party, several German media outlets are reporting.

BREAKING: Germany's Easter lockdown 'to be overturned as Merkel concedes mistake'
Angela Merkel. credit: dpa-Pool | Kay Nietfeld

At a hastily arranged meeting with state leaders Angela Merkel announced she was dropping the Easter lockdown, which foresaw the closure of all businesses for five days, reports claim.

The German Press Agency (DPA) learned of the decision from participants at the meeting but the U-turn has not been officially confirmed.

“I take full responsibility for this misjudgement,” Merkel reportedly told the state leaders, according to Bild newspaper. “In my long experience I’ve learned that if you try to knock your head through a wall, the wall wins.”

The Chancellor is set to give a press conference at 12.30pm on Wednesday.

She will then take questions in the Bundestag at on Wednesday afternoon, an appointment at which she is likely to face tough questions from MPs on her initial decision and the subsequent U-turn.

While her own CDU party expressed anger at the plan to bring public life to a halt over Easter, the opposition Greens described the plan as “too little too late.”

“I have personal respect for the Chancellor’s statement. In the end, it is better to clear up now if it is not legally possible,” Bavarian leader Markus Söder said after Merkel’s decision became known.

According to participants, CDU leader Armin Laschet, who is state leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, all state leaders bore responsibility as they all agreed to the plan..

After facing a wave of criticism over several aspects of the lockdown agreement from Monday evening, Angela Merkel agreed to meet the state leaders again on Wednesday for a second round of talks.

Criticism of the agreement, which would send the country into a strict lockdown over Easter, has come from opposition politicians, representatives of the church, employer organisations, and even Merkel’s own interior minister.

The meeting started at 11am on Wednesday, according to reports in several German media outlets.

Up for discussion were topics such as whether Maundy Thursday day will be a public holiday, what exactly the phrase “ban on gatherings’ means, and whether church services will be completely banned.

The first two points have been the subject of confusion due to the vague wording of Tuesday’s text.

The ban on church services on the holiest holiday of the Christian calendar had been criticised by church leaders and interior minister Horst Seehofer.

‘Wrong priorities’

The toughened shutdown had prompted fierce criticism, with the Bild daily calling the government’s pandemic management a “mess”.

“Merkel and the (regional leaders) have lost sight of the real problem,” it said.

Der Spiegel called the measures a “scandal”, claiming the government had “completely the wrong priorities” and should instead focus on improving its vaccination campaign and test strategy.

Infection numbers continue to rise in Germany, with 15,813 new cases reported in 24 hours on Wednesday by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency.

As well as ordering the Easter shutdown, Merkel and the regional leaders agreed on Monday night to extend existing virus measures including keeping cultural, leisure and sporting facilities shut through to April 18th.

READ ALSO: Curfew, testing for all air travel: the key changes in Germany’s new Covid rules

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

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

But patience is running thin in the country over a sluggish vaccine rollout, a delayed start to mass rapid testing and higher infection numbers despite months of shutdowns, with support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party at its lowest level for a year.

Europe’s top economy will elect a new government in September, as Merkel is retiring after 16 years in power.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.

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