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COVID-19

Is Germany heading for post-Christmas lockdown measures?

The rapidly spreading Omicron variant is leading health experts and politicians to believe that another partial lockdown will be necessary in Germany.

A red traffic light shines on the beach promenade in the Baltic Sea resort on the island of Usedom
A red traffic light shines on the beach promenade in the Baltic Sea resort on the island of Usedom. Photo: picture alliance/dpa Stefan Sauer

Although the Omicron variant has so far been spreading more slowly in Germany than in other countries, such as the UK, experts believe that this is likely to change quickly. 

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the nationwide 7-day incidence of new Covid infections rose slightly again on Monday to 316 cases per 100,000 people, up from the previous day of 315.4.

Though this number has dropped significantly from the previous week, when the incidence was at 402.9, the numbers are expected to shoot up again if Omicron takes hold. 

Covid summit on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the federal and state governments will hold a special summit to discuss the Covid situation and further action in light of the spread of the Omicron variant. It is expected that new Covid restrictions will be decided upon in this meeting, 

In anticipation of the summit, the German government’s Covid Expert Council called for action “in the coming days”. In a statement, the panel expressed the need for “well-planned and well-communicated contact restrictions”.

READ ALSO: German government advisory panel urges fresh Covid measures to fight Omicron

The panel’s scientists have concluded that booster vaccinations alone won’t be able to hold back the Omicron wave and that contact restrictions will be necessary.

Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology, reiterated the need for new contact restrictions, telling the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper: “We will have to bring the incidences that are shooting up with Omicron down very sharply, and we will not succeed in doing that now, in this fourth wave, with booster vaccinations, but only by bringing back distancing  and contact restrictions”.

READ ALSO: Germany must prepare for ‘massive’ Omicron wave, warns Health Minister

No lockdown before Christmas

As the federal and state governments are firstly meeting on Tuesday, December 21st to  discuss further restrictions, it is unlikely that lockdown measures will be brought before December 25th. 

On Sunday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach ruled out a lockdown before Christmas, telling the news a German broadcaster: “No, a lockdown – like in the Netherlands, before Christmas – we will not have that here”.

READ ALSO: Hold Christmas parties in Germany online to stave off Omicron, says RKI

Green Party health politician Janosch Dahmen also stated that a lockdown will not come into force until after the holidays.

“Given the extremely high transmissibility of Omicron, we will probably not be able to avoid a lockdown after Christmas. One possible scenario would be a well-planned lockdown in early January,” he said.

However, he also urged people to restrict Christmas celebrations to small family circles and to keep taking tests. 

North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier  and chairman of the Conference of Minister Presidents, Hendrik Wüst (CDU), sees the prospect of tighter contact restrictions coming in around the turn of the year. 

He told ARD television that he does not consider further restrictions to be necessary as early as Christmas, but that “we won’t be able to have the big New Year’s Eve bash”.

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COVID-19

German states clash with government over new Covid protection laws

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday that the pandemic was "not over yet" but that the country was entering a "new phase". However, states have raised concerns about the plan to drop almost all Covid measures.

German states clash with government over new Covid protection laws

The Chancellor held talks with German state leaders on Thursday to discuss the pandemic, as well as the war in Ukraine and how Germany can better manage and support refugees having to flee their homes.

It came as the German government gets set to drop almost all Covid measures on March 20th. Basic restrictions – like mandatory masks on public transport and in health settings will remain – as well as a ‘hotspot’ mechanism for bringing in tougher rules in areas where Covid cases build up.

The new slimmed-down Infection Protection Act is set to pass through the Bundestag and Bundesrat on Friday.

READ ALSO: The key Covid rule changes this week in Germany

But German states feel that they have been ignored and fear that the law changes planned by the coalition government will leave them with barely any options for combating the pandemic.

North Rhine-Westphalia premier Hendrik Wüst, who spoke by video link because he is in Covid isolation due to an infection, said the draft law was “legally uncertain and practically unworkable”.

Scholz defended the new law for Covid measures against criticism, saying it was a “legal basis on which to build for the future”.

However, Scholz also praised the “constructive discussion” with state premiers.

He said he was concerned about the high Covid infections. But the Chancellor said the situation in hospitals and intensive care units was not developing dramatically, and the Omicron variant resulted in less severe illness generally. Once again, he appealed to citizens to get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: How worried should we be about Germany’s rising Covid infections?

Earlier in the day, the Bundestag exchanged blows for the first time over a possible vaccine mandate in Germany. 

MPs debated two bills and three motions for and against compulsory vaccination.

Several speakers warned of new restrictions on freedom in autumn without compulsory vaccination, while others said they were strictly against vaccine mandates.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) told MPs: “We can end the pandemic for Germany for the first time with compulsory vaccination. We’ll be in the same place in autumn as we are now if we don’t seize this unique opportunity together.”

Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) said: “People in this country are fed up. Let’s finally get this pandemic over with, get rid of the virus and then return to freedom.”

Opposing views across parliamentary groups became clear.

Tabea Rößner, of the Green Party, said: “Many are afraid, some report strong reactions to vaccination.”

Left-wing politician Gregor Gysi said: “I was for it (vaccine mandate) with measles because that eradicated the disease, the (Covid) vaccine can’t do that here.”

MPs will vote on the mandate in April. 

Support for refugees

After the talks on Thursday Scholz said that the federal and state governments were united and wanted to support refugees from Ukraine in Germany. 

He admitted that “this will be a big, big challenge”.

Scholz said it was now a matter of providing help quickly and without complications, to make sure that refugees can work and that children can go to school “immediately”.

READ ALSO: German states call for more support in managing refugee crisis

Scholz also praised the “overwhelming culture of willingness to help” in Germany. According to the Interior Ministry 187,428 refugees have registered in Germany from Ukraine so far – but the real number is probably much higher.

Scholz pledged more funding to districts across Germany to help support people. A working group is to draw up a plan on this front by April 7th.

The Chancellor also emphasised that the invasion of Ukraine was “Putin’s war”. He said it was completely unacceptable for there to be any hostility against Russian people. 

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