Berlin The third corona wave is rolling through the country. There seems to be no contemplation of relaxing the tough restrictions. And the longed-for Easter getaway is also likely to be cancelled for many. Or are there compromises to be made?
In view of the high number of corona infections, people in Germany must be prepared for a categorical extension to the lockdown until well after Easter.
A draft resolution from the Chancellor’s Office for today’s meeting between federal and state leaders names 18 April as the date for the extension. In addition, the emergency brake regulation adopted at the beginning of March must be “consistently implemented”, it says. The resolution emphasises that additional openings would not be allowed if the number of infections grows exponentially, even below an incidence rate threshold of 100. The paper, which the DPA news agency received from several sources, is dated 21 March, 5.30 pm.
One passage of the draft plan, which is likely to be the subject of heated debate, provides for further tightening in districts with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week. A steadily increasing number of places fall into this category. As always, far-reaching changes may be made to the paper during the negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the heads of the state governments. No decision is taken until the very end. According to the draft, the federal and state governments are to meet again on 12 April.
The situation has changed drastically since the federal and state government meeting on 3 March. At that time, the main issue was establishing a phased plan for possible easing - but not as a one-way street. A mechanism for returning to restrictions was established. This so-called “emergency brake” is to be applied if the seven-day incidence rate in a region or federal state rises above the threshold of 100 for three consecutive days. The nationwide incidence rate was 107.3 on Monday, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). On Sunday it was 103.9, and on Saturday 99.9.
Demands from intensive care medics, the hospitality industry and teachers
In view of the figures, intensive care medics insist on a stricter lockdown with tighter contact bans. “I expect the state leaders and the Chancellor to agree on uniform and very simple tightening measures nationwide this Monday,” Christian Karagiannidis, President of the German Society for Internal Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi), told the Rheinische Post.
The head of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga), Ingrid Hartges, called in the newspaper for the sector to be opened up. “Hotels and restaurants in Germany finally need to know when we can open and under what conditions," she said.
The President of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, criticised in the Rheinische Post: “If the federal states had been serious about keeping schools open despite sharply rising incidence rates, they should have ensured that teachers are now vaccinated and that schools are equipped with rapid tests in sufficient numbers. But we are still miles away from that in 9 out of 10 schools.”
The following points are contained in the draft decision sent by the Chancellor's Office:
ADDITIONAL MEASURES: The passage that provides for further tightening in districts with an incidence rate above 100 because of exponential growth is in square brackets. This means that it is particularly contentious. Among other things, there is talk of a night-time curfew until 5 a.m., “unless there are strong reasons to the contrary”. The starting time is left open here - this too would have to be negotiated. In addition, there is a call for closing schools and day-care centres or not opening them at all, if the educators, teachers and pupils or children cannot be tested twice a week. Schools and day-care centres could accordingly be closed if the incidence rate exceeds 200.
TRAVEL: In view of the upcoming Easter holiday, the draft states: “The federal and state governments continue to make an urgent appeal to all citizens to refrain from non-essential travel within the country and also abroad”. And further: “The emergence of various Covid-19 variants and their worldwide spread have shown that cross-border travel must continue to be limited to the absolute minimum necessary.” This passage could refer to the currently particularly controversial travel of Germans to Majorca.
Whether there should be compulsory quarantine and testing for all travellers from abroad in the future, irrespective of the incidence rates, is still completely open. This point is also in square brackets and, moreover, subject to a “scrutiny proviso”.
The concept of a ‘low-contact holiday’ in one’s own state, which was brought up by the SPD-led states, is also still in square brackets and requires further discussion. This aims at the possibility of taking vacations in holiday homes, apartments, or mobile homes, as long as these have their own sanitary facilities and holidaymakers can also provide their own food. The Union parties (CDU/CSU) have already expressed scepticism, saying that the accommodation ban required for this has already created legal trouble once before.
TEMPORARY MODEL PROJECTS: The draft states that, within the framework of temporary model projects, the states should be able to test, in one region each with a low incidence rate, how individual areas of public life could be re-opened under strict conditions using a test concept. “The central conditions for this are uninterrupted negative test results as an access criterion; IT-supported processes for contact tracing and, if necessary, also for test verification; territorial separation at the municipal level, a tight feedback chain to the public health service and clear discontinuation criteria in the event of failure,” it continues.
VACCINATIONS AND HEALTH CARE: Without “significantly restrictive measures”, the number of new infections will rise so quickly that an overload of the health system is “likely as early as April”, the draft stressed. As great progress has not yet been made on vaccination, the paper relies on “a strict containment of infection in the coming weeks”. This containment would lead to an “earlier return to normality and shorter restrictions overall. It is therefore required for health, economic and social reasons.”
OFFERS FOR TESTING: The draft continues that especially in the current phase of the pandemic, it is important for companies to allow people to work from home. Where this is not possible, staff should be offered tests at least once a week and twice a week if available. Testing for education workers and students should be further expanded. The goal is “at least two tests per week”. Workers in day-care centres should also be tested at least twice a week.
CORONA-WARN-APP: In April the app is to be extended with further functions, including anonymous “event registration”. This will allow users to digitally check-in to an event such as a private birthday party or at a restaurant. In the event of a positive corona case, all participants are to be warned following the event.
(Original text: dpa, Translation: Caroline Kusch)