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Schools remain closed: Lockdown until February 14 – and: Bye, bye, everyday mask

Schools remain closed : Lockdown until February 14 – and: Bye, bye, everyday mask

The virus mutations worry the federal and the state governments so much that individual rules are being tightened even further.

Hardly anyone doubted it: People in Germany will have to continue to cut back severely because of the Corona pandemic. The virus mutations worry the federal and the state governments so much that individual rules are being tightened even further.

The lockdown to combat the Corona pandemic in Germany will be extended until mid-February in view of further high infection and death rates.

At the same time, the federal and state governments decided on Tuesday evening to impose additional restrictions: The often-used everyday masks made of fabric will no longer suffice in many places in the future. In buses and trains, as well as when shopping, the better-protecting FFP2 masks or surgical masks must be worn.

One reason for the tightening is the "serious danger" posed by what is likely to be a much more contagious mutation of the coronavirus, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) said after the deliberations in Berlin. "There is still time, in a sense, to contain the whole dangerousness as well." To do that, however, action must be taken now, she said, or infection numbers could quickly rise sharply. "It's hard what we now have to put people through once again," Merkel said. But she said it was a matter of precaution for the country and its citizens, as well as for the economy and the world of work, which would suffer greatly from an explosion in infection numbers.

According to the decision, restaurants and bars, recreational facilities, theaters, cinemas and retail stores, for example, will remain closed. Exceptions will continue to be made for supermarkets, drugstores and other stores that sell food. Private meetings continue to be allowed only with members of one's household and one other person.

There were lengthy and passionate discussions between the federal and state governments about how to deal with schools. It was finally agreed that schools would either remain closed in principle, as before, or that compulsory attendance would be suspended. In that case, parents are often asked not to send their children to school. The same applies to daycare centers.

The negotiations between the federal and state governments were dominated by the question of what could be expected of parents and children, Merkel said. Baden-Württemberg's Minister President Winfried Kretschmann announced his intention to gradually and cautiously reopen elementary schools and daycare centers, probably starting Feb. 1, "if the infection situation permits."

In order to reduce contacts at the place of work, but also on the way to work, employers will have to allow work in home offices wherever possible in the future. Employees are asking the federal and state governments to make use of such offers. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has already presented a draft home office regulation. According to it, employers with a so-called seven-day incidence of 50 or more are to be obliged to "offer employees in the case of office work or comparable activities to carry out these activities in their home (home office) if there are no compelling operational reasons to the contrary."

Merkel, Berlin's head of government Michael Müller (SPD) and Bavaria's head of government Markus Söder (CSU) emphasized that there is currently also reason for hope. The current infection figures offer the first rays of hope. Thus, the health offices reported to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Tuesday 11,369 Corona new infections within one day. Exactly one week ago, there were 12,802 new infections.

The numbers are, according to expert estimate, however, still much too high, in order to be able to venture easing. The number of new infections reported within seven days per 100,000 inhabitants (seven-day incidence) is currently still more than 130 nationwide - the target value up to which health authorities can manage the follow-up is 50.

Of concern are virus variants such as B.1.1.7. which, according to the current state of knowledge, are considerably more infectious and are already circulating in Germany - probably at a fairly low level so far. Lifting the lockdown would give them free rein, according to experts. "If the virus becomes more dangerous, the face mask must become better," Söder said, justifying the tightened mask requirement.

Merkel reiterated the goal of restoring full tracking of infection chains and contacts. By the end of the summer, it should be possible to make all citizens an offer of vaccination. To achieve this, planning reliability for vaccine supplies is also important. The chancellor also urged Germany's neighboring countries to "work in the same direction" in containing the Corona pandemic. She said this would also be a topic at this Thursday's EU summit. If not, "precautions" would have to be taken on entry issues.

The federal and state governments are again appealing to citizens: "The next few weeks in the pandemic are crucial," they write in their latest resolution. If the Corona virus mutation proves to be significantly more contagious, they say, a "further significant worsening" of the situation is likely. The measures agreed so far between the federal government and the states will be extended until February 14 for the time being; as the federal government and the states readjusted the details:

CONTACTS: Still, meetings beyond the own household are only allowed with one other person. It is advised to keep the circle of participating households as constant and small as possible.

MASKS: In public means of transport as well as in stores better protective masks are to become obligatory. These can be surgical masks, FFP2 masks or KN95 masks, which have a comparable standard. Everyday masks made of fabric will then no longer suffice.

KITAS & SCHOOLS: Kitas and schools will remain closed until February 14, or the obligation to be present will be suspended.

NURSING HOMES: Staff must wear an FFP2 mask when coming into contact with residents. To enable visitors and staff to take rapid tests several times a week, federal soldiers and volunteers are to step in. There should also be enough testing in facilities for people with disabilities.

WORSHIP SERVICES: Worship services will remain permitted if the minimum distance of 1.5 meters is maintained. A mask with a higher standard of protection is mandatory, singing is prohibited. Gatherings with more than ten participants must usually be reported to the Office of Public Order at least two working days in advance.

WORK & HOMEOFFICE: Employers must make it possible to work at home wherever possible. The Federal Ministry of Labor is to issue a regulation to this effect, limited in time until March 15.

TAX PROMOTION FOR COMPUTERS: Anyone who acquires "certain digital assets" is to be able to deduct them from tax in their entirety in the year of purchase - retroactively to January 1. It's about "computer hardware and software for data input and processing.“

HOTSPOTS: In countries and counties where particularly large numbers of people are infected in relation to the number of inhabitants, tougher measures are to take effect if necessary. Even there, there should be a realistic chance of reaching the target of 50 new infections per 100,000 population within seven days (7-day incidence) by mid-February.

VACCINATIONS: By mid-February at the latest, all residents of nursing homes who wish to do so are to be vaccinated. Nearly half have already been vaccinated, according to the resolution. The federal government will try to give the states reliable vaccine delivery times for each of the next six weeks.

VIRUS MUTATIONS: The circulating variants of the coronavirus are to be examined more closely for the exact type of virus (sequencing), according to a decree in effect since Tuesday. The federal government is to present initial results on this by early February. The background to this is fears about the spread of new virus variants, such as those in Great Britain or Ireland, which could be significantly more infectious.

HEALTH OFFICERS: Students are to be recruited and trained for contact tracing in health offices for the semester break from mid-February to mid-April. The goal is to ensure contact tracing at least to an incidence of 50.

CORONA ASSISTANCE: Access to government assistance for businesses and the solo self-employed is to be made easier, and assistance expanded. The obligation to file for bankruptcy will be suspended until the end of April for companies that are eligible for aid payments and have filed a promising application in time.

NEXT STEPS: By mid-February, the federal and state governments want to develop a concept for a "safe and fair opening strategy.“

FURTHER ISSUES: Retail stores will remain closed. Exceptions apply to stores that meet daily needs. Hairdressers, massage practices or beauty salons will also remain closed. Alcohol consumption in public spaces remains prohibited.

Original text: dpa

Translation: Mareike Graepel