Extension of the general lockdown until March 28, but also gradual lifting of restrictions from next Monday, March 8, provided that the index of new cases will be kept below 50, they decided last night, after a marathon teleconference nine federal and state governments.
Under pressure from the latter, the 35-case limit set in the previous teleconference was abandoned as a basis for easing the measures.
“We are entering the next phase with justified hopes,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel, who warned against the danger of a third wave of the pandemic and stressed the need to “take the next steps smartly.” “There is a ‘battle with time’,” the chancellor explained, noting that Germany was at a critical juncture. He promised, however, that “The spring of 2021 will be very different from the previous one”, indicating the vaccine as “our most reliable helper” for overcoming the pandemic, combined with conducting mass tests. At the end of the week, he added, the states are expected to receive 11 million vaccines and, in a few weeks, the vaccination of older citizens will be completed, which, he said, will significantly alleviate the health system.
According to the text agreed by the federation and the states, if the new cases remain for at least 14 days below the limit of 50 per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days, it will be possible to reopen the schools – with a limited number of students in the classrooms – and following the opening of retail stores, initially florists, bookstores and garden businesses.
Later, all stores will open, with a limit on the number of customers who will be able to enter their premises., but if the number of cases exceeds the limit the system will be applied “click-and-meet». Employers should even ensure that physically fit staff are tested for the new coronavirus at least once a week, the cost of which has not yet been determined whether to be borne by the state or the employer.
Under the same conditions for the number of cases, catering businesses will gradually reopen, but only outdoors, theaters and cinemas, with a limited number of spectators. Reservations must be made at museums and zoos. Then, again under the same conditions, relaxation of restrictions on sports activities is also provided.
Teleworking is extended until at least April 30, said Mrs. Merkel, while at the end of the same month the situation in relation to domestic tourism will be re-evaluated. In any case, it is stressed, there will be the “danger brake” in order to adapt the measures to the conditions.
According to the same decisions, from next Monday, meetings of members up to two households are allowed again, with a maximum of five people, without counting children under 14 years old. A prerequisite for the measure is the number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants within a week to remain below 100. Central government and states appealed to citizens to follow the rules and always meet with members of the same household or take care of all attendees to undergo rapid tests.
The teleconference also decided that private doctors will be involved in the vaccination from the beginning of April at the latest, while teachers and school and kindergarten administrators will be given priority for vaccination and will be tested every week. From April, the free “fast” test is also expected to start available to all citizens on a weekly basis. The tests will be sold freely from next Saturday.
The chancellor herself spoke of “difficult” consultations, as, as she clarified, two models were being considered: one provided for faster opening, the other for more safety valves. “We tried to reach a compromise,” he explained and described the provision as correct for a period of 14 days from each step to the next. Referring to the long duration of the teleconference, she joked that at least she did not have to say goodbye to the journalists at the press conference, she was still able to say “good evening”.
The atmosphere in the teleconference was – according to information transmitted by German media – very tense: as it had become clear in the previous days, there were different approaches from the participants. Central point of contention, Chancellor Merkel’s 35 cases in the previous video conference as a criterion for lifting the restrictions. It was eventually abandoned, under pressure from the prime ministers. Significant was the disagreement between the Bavarian Prime Minister Marcus Zeder and the Vice Chancellor and Minister of Finance Olaf Soltz, on the occasion of the financial coverage offered by the federal state: You are not the Chancellor (…) I do not know what you drank. “You are not the king of Germany or the ruler of the world (…).
After the teleconference, Mr. Zender admitted that there was tension with his interlocutor, without going into details.
For her part, Merkel confirmed the information about the creation of an emergency fund that will undertake financial assistance to the victims, but clarified that the details will be decided in the coming days.