The adjusted law, which still needs to be approved by parliament, would allow Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to impose curfews from 9pm to 5am and close schools and businesses in areas with high infection rates.
Areas which have a 7-day incidence of more than 100 infections per 100,000 residents over three days will have several strict measures put in place.
What rules does the government want?
The adjusted law agreed by cabinet on Tuesday would give Berlin the power to enforce this “emergency brake”.
The plan states that through a nighttime curfew, residents would only be allowed to leave their home for medical emergencies, work purposes or to take care of animals.
Private gatherings in public or private space are to be allowed only if they are attended by no more than the members of a household and one other person.
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Among other things, in the event of a higher incidence, most stores and recreational and cultural facilities, as well as restaurants (with the exception of pick-up and delivery), will also have to close.
The food trade, beverage markets, health food stores, baby markets, pharmacies, medical supply stores, drugstores, opticians, and gas stations are to be excluded.
Tourist accommodation would also be banned.
In schools, face-to-face classes would be allowed only when pupils have two negative coronavirus test results per week. However, if the 7-day incidence were to rise to 200 over three days, then in-person classes would no longer be allowed.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday that the aim of the new law was to apply “uniform national” rules.
Regular meetings between Berlin and the regions to set Germany’s coronavirus policies have been marked by bitter disputes and spotty compliance in recent weeks.
Most notably, some states have not followed through on an agreement to row back on the easing of measures in areas where the seven-day incidence rate exceeds 100 new infections per 100,000 people.
Only one out of Germany’s 16 states was reporting an incidence rate below 100 on Tuesday.
Cabinet also approved a new rule obliging employers to provide a weekly test to people who were unable to work from home.
Yet the changes have been met with scepticism from regional leaders. Lower Saxony’s interior minister Boris Pistorius told Die Welt newspaper onMonday that it was a “big mistake to take power from the regions in the middle of a crisis”.
The German Association of Towns and Municipalities also criticised the plans, telling the Rheinische Post that the proposed curfews were “constitutionally problematic”.
The adjusted law still has to pass through parliament, where Merkel’s right-left coalition has a majority.
Rising infection rates
The controversial move away from Germany’s strict federal structures comes as Europe’s biggest economy struggles to contain rising infection rates.
“The numbers are too high at the moment. The pressure on our intensive care stations is growing and we have to say that this third wave is perhaps the hardest one to break,” said Merkel.
Case numbers continue to rise despite cultural venues, restaurants and leisure facilities having been closed for months, with the total number of infections passing the three million mark on Monday.
Health authorities have warned that hospitals could become overwhelmed if tougher national measures are not imposed soon.
“We urgently appeal to the politicians to pass the changes to the infection control law by the end of the week,” Gernot Marx, president of the German Association for Intensive Medicine (DIVI), told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.