UPDATE: German parliament passes disputed national virus law amendment

The German parliament on Wednesday passed a controversial amendment to the law to give Chancellor Angela Merkel's government power to impose tougher anti-coronavirus measures.

UPDATE: German parliament passes disputed national virus law amendment
Chancellor Angela Merkel and health minister Jens Spahn at a meeting to decide on the new national law on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

The new law, which prescribes school closures and night-time curfews in
areas with high infection rates, aims to end a political tug-of-war between
the federal government and the 16 regional states over virus restrictions.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: These are the planned changes to Germany’s ’emergency brake’ coronavirus rules

Dubbed the “emergency brake”, the law prescribes tough measures including sweeping shutdowns and overnight curfews in regions with incidence rates of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

It would also force schools to revert to virtual teaching in states where the incidence rate exceeds 165 — a threshold tightened from 200 in an earlier draft of the law.

READ ALSO: German teachers call for stricter school closures as part of country-wide Covid measures

Only one state had an incidence rate below 100 on Tuesday, while six topped 165 — including the two most populous of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia.

Fierce opposition

But the proposed law has sparked fierce opposition, particularly over plans for curfews in a country still scarred by memories of Nazi and communist dictatorships that spied on citizens and stole their freedoms.

During a heated debate in parliament last week, Christian Lindner, head of the pro-business FDP, called it “unconstitutional” that “a vaccinated couple…can’t step outside the door alone after 9pm for an evening walk”.

In the final draft presented on Monday, the proposed start time for the curfews was put back from 9pm to 10pm and exceptions have been added for lone walkers and joggers before midnight.

But Ulf Buermeyer, head of the Society for Civil Rights (GFF), still called it “unfair, unnecessary and unreasonable” in Der Spiegel news magazine on Tuesday.

The law received the simple majority it needed to pass through parliament, and is set for a second vote in the Bundesrat upper house on Thursday.

Virus restrictions in Germany have so far been decided in consultations between Merkel and the leaders of the 16 states, with the regions ultimately responsible for implementing them.

But in many cases, regional leaders have failed to put in place shutdown measures which they agreed with Merkel, with many choosing broad interpretations of the rules.

For example, though the rules require non-essential shops closed when the incidence rate tops 100, many regions have left them open to people with negative tests, and some have even allowed outdoor dining to resume.

Merkel warned in a rare TV interview in March that she would not stand by and watch infection rates continue to rise, threatening the regional leaders with a change in the law if they did not play ball.

READ ALSO: ‘We need action’: Merkel urges German states to stick to agreed shutdown rules

‘Cry for help’

Defending the plan for tougher rules in parliament on Friday, Merkel pointed out that other countries have imposed far more restrictive measures.

“The third wave of the pandemic has our country firmly in its grip,” she said. “The intensive care doctors are sending out one cry for help after another. Who are we if we ignore these emergency calls?”

Some German states, including Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Baden-Württemberg, have already sharpened their rules in anticipation of the new law.

But critics say it does not go far enough, with doctors and scientists calling for a quick, hard lockdown to bring infections under control while the country’s vaccination effort picks up pace.

“A standardisation of the rules is welcome, but they are not far-reaching enough,” Thorsten Lehr, a professor of clinical pharmacy at Saarland University, told Der Spiegel.

Social Democrat MP and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach told Die Welt newspaper the watered down curfews would “extend the duration of the lockdown and, unfortunately, lead to unnecessary deaths”.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency reported 24,884 new cases in the past 24 hours on Wednesday and 331 deaths, with a national incidence rate of 160.

Member comments

    1. [email protected]

      2.) apply penalties and fines on those idiots who are putting us in this disgusting situation (solely because of their own personal arrogance, desire to self-indulge and lack of consideration towards others).

      1. Yeah it’s asinine how little consequence there is to breaking these rules. Then why make them law? Aren’t guidelines enough? Feels just as ineffective

  1. At the end ofthe article, thanks to President Joe Biden for the statement inthe face ofgrowing Asian-American injuries: Will urge Congress topass the“COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act” assoon aspossible toaddress violent crime and discrimination against Asian-Americans inthe United States during the epidemic.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.