Better coiffed, but still at a distance – that's how the German people will experience the first week of March. Because apart from the early opening of hair salons, the lockdown remains in place. When it comes to childcare and education, the federal states are going their seperate ways.
The measures currently in place to combat the Corona pandemic will in principle be extended until March 7. This was agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the heads of government of the states on Wednesday after several hours of consultations.
If the so-called seven-day incidence of new infections has fallen stably below 35 by then, the restrictions are to be gradually relaxed by the states thereafter. Then the retail trade, museums and galleries, as well as businesses with services close to the body, should be able to reopen under specific conditions, according to the resolution of the federal and state governments.
Currently, the number per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days nationwide averages 68 confirmed new infections daily. The figure of 35 is well within sight, emphasized Bavaria's Minister President Markus Söder (CSU): "It's not a postponement to the never-never day."
Merkel advocated a cautious approach to upcoming initial relaxations of the Corona restrictions. She said everything should be done to avoid getting into a "ripple effect up and down, up and down.“
There is to be an exception for hairdressers. They are to be allowed to reopen under strict hygiene conditions as early as the beginning of March. The opening steps in schools and daycare centers will not be regulated on a nationwide basis. Merkel said she would have liked to start with these openings only from March 1. However, the states, which are responsible for education, would have assessed this differently.
Several states want to gradually open schools, closed because of the Corona pandemic, as early as February. Berlin plans this step for 22 February, said the governing mayor Michael Mueller (SPD). Other states are also aligning themselves with this date, added the current chairman of the Conference of Minister Presidents (MPK).
The resolution calls on Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) to consider whether the next update of the coronavirus vaccination regulation could vaccinate employees in daycare and teachers at elementary schools earlier than previously planned.
The fact that the lockdown will not be ended for the time being, despite falling infection figures, was justified by the federal-state round table primarily because of the risk posed by the spread of new, more infectious variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. The chancellor's office would therefore have liked to keep the restrictions on commerce, gastronomy, amateur sports and culture, which were originally to apply until next Sunday, in place until March 14. That's according to an earlier draft that circulated before the meeting. However, this period was too long for the prime ministers. One must adjust to the new variant, otherwise one risks again an "exponential growth", warned Merkel.
According to the decision, hair salons will be allowed to resume operations on March 1 - "subject to conditions on hygiene, controlling access with reservations, and the use of medical masks." This is justified with the "meaning of hairdressers for the body hygiene", in particular older ones are dependent on it.
It remains open when it is to continue for restaurants, hotels, museums, clubs, theaters and concert halls as well as amateur sports. The resolution merely states that the federal government and the states are "continuing to work on the development of the next steps in the safe and fair opening strategy".
Before the video conference, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) had called for a clear opening scenario based on scientific findings "instead of continuing restrictive measures in a multi-week rhythm without a medium-term perspective." Thuringia's Minister President Bodo Ramelow (Left Party) also urged, in a protocol statement on the resolution, that work on an opening strategy must be completed in time for the upcoming federal-state meeting scheduled for March 3.
Until now, the pandemic response measures had been set to expire Feb. 14. Two-thirds of citizens would support extending the deadline to the end of February, according to a poll by pollster YouGov. About a quarter (26 percent) opposed an extension.
Further relaxation possible from an incidence figure of 35, alcohol ban in Bonn
Fearing the corona mutations, the federal government and state premiers want to push the incidence figure further. "When we are at an incidence of below 35, further steps of relaxation can also take place," says Saxony's Minister President Michael Kretschmer. "We will talk about that with each other in March." Everyone must remain cautious, he said. "We must not be reckless now."
An alcohol ban is now in effect in parts of Bonn on Carnival days. This was decided by the city on Wednesday. Between Weiberfastnacht and Ash Wednesday, this applies from 9am to 6am on the following day, according to the city council Bonn.
In the pedestrian zones of Bonn and Bad Godesberg, the main shopping streets in Beuel and Hardtberg, as well as at the popular carnival meeting points at Erzbergerufer/Brassertufer in Bonn, at Hans-Steger-Ufer in Beuel, as well as in the entire old town (between Berliner Platz, Kölnstraße, Kaiser-Karl-Ring, Hochstadenring and Bornheimer Straße) no alcohol may be drunk in public spaces at the times mentioned.
During the carnival days, the city's public order service and the GABI police will keep a closer eye on whether revellers are celebrating and whether they are observing the Corona rules.
The federal and state governments are abandoning the line that there should be nationwide guidelines for opening schools. "The states decide within the framework of their cultural sovereignty on the gradual return to face-to-face teaching and the expansion of the range of child day care," says the resolution agreed by the federal government and state premiers.
More rapid tests are to be used in schools. Medical masks, ventilation and hygiene measures will continue to be necessary. The states are to further expand the digitization of learning to flank hybrid instruction and the gradual ramp-up of teaching. Several states had previously announced plans to reopen elementary schools in any case in the coming days.
(Original text: dpa; Translation: Mareike Graepel)