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First German state set to end coronavirus shutdown from April 6th

The southwestern state of Saarland will become the first in Germany to lift its coronavirus shutdown from April 6th, with leisure, sports and entertainment facilities to reopen, state premier Tobias Hans said Thursday.

First German state set to end coronavirus shutdown from April 6th
People with face masks walk through the centre of Saarbrücken in December. Photo: DPA

Cinemas, theatres, concert halls, outdoor dining and gyms will be reopened and gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed in public after Easter, Hans told a press conference.

People who visit them will have to abide by hygiene rules and present a negative antigen rapid test, he said.

Shops reopened from early March in the region bordering France and Luxembourg, where infection rates have been among the lowest in Germany.

With virus rates elsewhere in the country soaring, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states had agreed at tense talks on Monday to prolong existing measures until April 18th.

But under Germany’s federal system, regional states have significant decision-making powers and have often strayed from the government line in the past.

Saarland’s announcement also came a day after Merkel dramatically scrapped plans for a stricter nationwide shutdown also ordering supermarkets shut over five days from April 1st-5th.

READ ALSO: What prompted Merkel to make a sudden U-turn on Easter shutdown in Germany?

Merkel on Wednesday admitted the failed plan was “my mistake” and asked the public to forgive her, in a rare climb down amid massive criticism of the government’s pandemic response.

Germany was widely praised for its handling of the first wave of the pandemic, but has struggled to contain new infections since they began spiralling out of control in a second wave late last year.

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

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

Numbers have since continued to rise, with 22,657 new cases reported in 24 hours on Thursday by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency and an incidence rate of 113.3 per 100,000 people over seven days.

READ ALSO: Germany reaches highest number of new Covid-19 infections since January

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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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