Speaking just after midday Merkel made a dramatic announcement. She called the decision to go into Germany’s toughest lockdown yet, by closing down the economy over the five days of Easter, “a mistake.”
It was made with the best of intentions but was not implementable in the short time available, she said.
Why did she perform this U-turn?
The decision to turn Maundy Thursday and Easter Saturday into one-off “days of rest” had caused huge amounts of confusion. The term Merkel used, Ruhetag (day of rest), does not have a clear legal definition.
Employers were left scratching their heads over whether Merkel meant that the two days were to become one-off public holidays. That would have had important implications. Businesses would have had to pay workers to stay at home.
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But to enforce this, the German states would have first had to create new laws anchoring these two days as public holidays.
There was also concern over how supplies chains could be altered at such short notice.
Given the very limited time to make these arrangements, Merkel decided that the plan was a mistake and dropped the label Ruhetag.
That means people will be expected to work on Thursday and Saturday as normal. Shops will also be able to stay open on those two days.
What about church services?
There was also considerable anger on Tuesday over the decision to discourage church attendance on the most important weekend in the Christian calendar.
“It has amazed me that parties with the C (for Christian) in their name, of all things, are suggesting that churches refrain from holding services, even more so at Easter,” Interior Minister Seehofer told Bild newspaper.
Merkel did not specifically address church services in her press conference on Wednesday.
But the government also seems to be stepping back from its insistence on moving church services online.
Merkel’s deputy spokesperson Ulrike Demmer assured worshippers on Wednesday afternoon that the government was “looking for solutions” and was already in discussions with representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches.
Church leaders had said that they wanted to have worshippers inside churches on Easter Sunday.
The state of Saxony has already made clear that it will not stand in the way of churches that want to hold church services with worshipers in attendance.
The government published an update on its website on Wednesday afternoon stating that “as before, private meetings are only possible during this time [Easter] with a maximum of 5 people from two households, plus children up to 14 years of age.”
At first glance this doesn’t change anything. At the same time there is no longer a reference to a “ban on gathering” in public spaces. This rule already created some confusion, as it was vague about what exactly constitutes a gathering.
On Monday, Merkel said that over the five days of Easter people should stay at home.
As Merkel made no specific mention of small gatherings on Wednesday, it remains unclear whether the government wants people to be able to sit outside. This is likely to be specified in the coming days when each individual state lays out its own plans.
Bavarian leader Markus Söder said on Wednesday that the U-turn “only means one things in Bavaria: Thursday and Saturday are no longer days of rest.”