The situation that Germany is going through is “very serious”, said Chancellor Angela Merkel in the early hours of Tuesday, after a meeting of almost 12 hours with the country’s regional leaders to decide what measures to take in the face of the advance of the coronavirus. The federal government and the states agreed to stop the timid de-escalation that had begun two weeks ago because “the number of cases is increasing exponentially and intensive care beds are being filled again,” Merkel said. The country will be almost completely paralyzed at Easter: between April 1 and 5, all shops will remain closed, except for food stores, which can only open on the 3rd, and outdoor gatherings will be prohibited.
The chancellor appeared before the press after three in the morning to announce that the confinement that has been in force in Germany since November has to be extended until April 18. Bars, restaurants, gyms and museums will remain closed until then. Two weeks ago, Merkel and the presidents of the 16 countries they agreed to start opening public life little by little. They allowed, for example, that non-essential trade could open by appointment and the opening of the hotel industry abroad was foreseen. The increase in incidence has made it impossible, according to the chancellor. Private meetings, which had been relaxed to allow more people to meet, are once again restricted to a single coexistence unit, in addition to their own, and to a maximum of five people.
The country will oblige all travelers to present a negative PCR test when they arrive from any country in the world, even if it is not considered risky. Until now, in most cases only a 10-day quarantine was required when returning from risk areas, which could be reduced to five after a negative test. A few days ago, the Robert Koch Institute, competent in the matter, eliminated the Balearic Islands and other territories from the list of risk areas, which in practice was equivalent to allowing tourism since the quarantine was not necessary on the return. The decision sparked protests from the German tourism sector and the Länder, where this sector is most thriving, since within Germany it is forbidden to spend the night in hotels except for work reasons.
The new infections have been rising for three weeks. This Tuesday the accumulated incidence is 108 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days, when in mid-February this indicator was around 60 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In Spain, the incidence at seven days is 62.5. In the Balearic Islands, at 26.4. Germany is noticing how the pressure is increasing again in the intensive care units, where there are currently more than 3,000 people admitted.
Merkel and regional leaders had to interrupt their meeting by videoconference hours after it began, after three in the afternoon. According to the German press, they could not agree on the measures. The chancellor advocated tightening restrictions while some federal states pressed to allow inland tourism and to continue de-escalation. Finally, after three in the morning, Merkel left accompanied by the mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, and the president of Bavaria, Markus Söder.
Germany, the Chancellor warned, suffers from “a new pandemic” that is “clearly more lethal, clearly more infectious and contagious for longer.” The penetration of new variants of the coronavirus is already very high in the country. According to the latest data from the Robert Koch Institute, up to 75% of new cases are caused by the British variant.
The Easter restrictions are the toughest that have been imposed in the country since the start of the pandemic. Merkel and regional leaders agreed to extend the official holidays, so that Thursday 1 and Monday 5 will also be considered public holidays. In that period, food stores will only be able to open on Saturday 3 and all the rest of the trade will remain closed. Masses and other religious acts may not be celebrated in person either.
Vaccination progresses very slowly in Germany, as in the rest of the European Union. So far 11.1 million doses have been administered, so that 9.2% of the German population has been immunized with at least one dose of the vaccine. People over 80 years of age have been considered a priority group from day one, unlike in Spain, where young people working in the health sector were first vaccinated. 60% of German citizens over 80 have at least one dose. In Spain this percentage is unknown.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.