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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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now