Germany’s central government tried to reassert its authority in combatting the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday by agreeing on a set of national measures – including night-time curfews – to stem a third wave of infections sweeping the country.
Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the “important, urgent” decision by her Cabinet to approve the legislation, which would take precedence over state-level measures if local coronavirus infection numbers rise too high.
After several weeks in which government policy has looked confused – including the last-minute scrapping of an Easter lockdown – Merkel and other political leaders had pushed for a streamlined set of rules at the federal level.
The measures agreed by the Cabinet on Tuesday will amend the country’s current pandemic legislation, and – if approved by parliament – will mean many parts of the country will go straight into a stricter lockdown.
“The situation is serious, and we must treat it seriously … The third wave has our country in its grip,” Merkel said at a press conference.
The move to impose national rules has been controversial in federal Germany, where states have been able to largely decide how and when to combat local outbreaks.
The most keenly debated part of the so-called “emergency brake” is a mandatory night-time curfew from 9 pm to 5 am if infection numbers in any particular area rise too high.
The key level is an incidence rate of 100. This measures the number of new infections per 100,000 people over the past week. According to the new legislation, the emergency brake kicks in once the incidence rate in any given district stays above 100 for three consecutive days.
Other measures include: limiting gatherings to one household plus one other person and their children; limiting funerals to 15 people; the shutting of most shops and cultural or leisure facilities, apart from outlets selling food and drink, petrol, medical supplies, pet supplies, flowers or newspapers.
Restaurants will be allowed to deliver food, while tourists will not be allowed to stay overnight.
Under the new rules, schools would only be allowed to open if pupils take two rapid-result coronavirus tests per week. If the incidence rate goes above 200 in a given area, in-person lessons would be banned completely.
The bill still needs approval in parliament, where the government is seeking to use fast-track procedures to push it through quickly – this will however require the backing of the opposition.
The seven-day incidence rate of infection nationally rose to 140.9 on Tuesday, with 294 new deaths reported over the past 24 hours. There is large variation between parts of the country, however, and the legislation agreed on Tuesday would apply district by district depending on that area’s infection rate.
The emergency brake may not be the only weapon the government will deploy in the coming weeks.
Leading politicians – including the leader of Merkel’s CDU party – have additionally called for a “bridging lockdown” to keep infection numbers down until enough people have been vaccinated.
Merkel said on Tuesday the country’s vaccine campaign – which has been criticized for being slower than in many other countries – is progressing “better every day.”
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