LATEST: Berlin refuses to go back into hard shutdown despite high infection rate
Michael Müller, mayor of the German capital, said on Thursday it wasn’t a “viable path” to return to a hard lockdown despite his state exceeding the infection level that requires the so-called emergency brake to be applied.
“I believe that it is not a viable path to now turn back everything that we have fought for in terms of opportunities and freedoms in recent days and weeks," Müller said.
The Social Democrat (SPD) politician said that infections in the capital would be fought through an upscaled testing regime and through more vaccinations.
At Monday’s lockdown summit all 16 federal states agreed to “consequently” apply the so-called emergency brake by returning to previous lockdown measures if the state's 7-day incidence exceeds 100 on three consecutive days.
At the beginning of March, all states began to loosen restrictions as part of a "five-step plan", which initially saw businesses such as hair salons, hardware stores and flower shops reopen their doors.
On Thursday Berlin recorded a 7-day incidence above 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for the third day in a row.
The German capital had a 7-day incidence of 125 per 100,000 inhabitants on Friday and recorded a further 1,000 cases over the past 24 hours.
Berlin uses a traffic light system that tracks the reproductions value, 7-day incidence and hospital occupancy. On Friday only the 7-day incidence was coloured red. The R-value was green and hospital occupancy was amber.
Müller said that his state would instead think about a new vaccination strategy.
“Perhaps we need to talk about whether we should be vaccinating particularly mobile people like students and trainees next and about how we can vaccinate people more quickly,” he said.
Health Minister Jens Spahn of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) implicitly criticized Berlin for not activating the emergency brake at his weekly press conference on Friday.
“I encourage every state to implement the agreement made on Monday,” he said, describing the emergency brake as “necessary.”
“If we don’t make massive efforts to tackle this threat the consequences will be enormous,” Spahn warned, saying that the health system could be brought to its limit in April.
Saarland defends opening strategy
Doctors have also criticized the small rural state of Saarland after it announced on Thursday that it would lift restrictions on outdoor dining, cinemas and gyms after Easter.
Saarland says that its opening strategy will be supported by a comprehensive testing regime.
State premier Tobias Hans (CDU) said that the strategy will lead to more cases being discovered, as people will have the incentive to take a test if they want to buy an ice cream or go to the cinema. More infected people would this be identified and quarantined.
But the plan has been criticized by the Marburg Bund doctors association.
"These types of pilot programmes cannot be an alternative to lockdown in the current situation," said the association's head, Susanne Johna.
"The third wave is already in full swing. I see it critically when an entire federal state like Saarland wants to carry out a pilot project."
Rising case numbers
Health offices in Germany reported 21,573 new infections on Friday, up from 17,428 a week ago. In addition, 183 new deaths were recorded within 24 hours.
The national 7-day incidence per 100,000 inhabitants rose to 119.1 on Friday morning, from 113.3 on the previous day.
The highest number of new infections registered within 24 hours, 33,777, was recorded on December 18th.
The RKI has counted 2,734,753 proven infections with Sars-CoV-2 in Germany since the beginning of the pandemic. The actual total is likely much higher, as many infections are never detected.