Thursday, October 28

Coronavirus: Merkel gives in to regional leaders and starts a timid de-escalation based on free rapid tests | Society

A woman walks past a closed cinema in Berlin on March 3.
A woman walks past a closed cinema in Berlin on March 3.JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP

The pandemic enters a new phase in which “there can be justified hope” that normalcy will return in the summer, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This spring will not be like 2020, he predicted, because now we have two tools that we did not have then: vaccines and enough tests to control the evolution of infections. Merkel met this Wednesday with the leaders of the 16 federal states to agree on a de-escalation schedule after four months of restrictions and the growing discontent of the population, which is beginning to show its weariness in the polls. The appointment began after two in the afternoon and lasted for more than nine hours. Politicians disagreed. Finally the chancellor came out to give a press conference around midnight. His first words were to thank citizens for the sacrifices that the almost total closure of public life in the country has entailed.

On video, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, explained on Thursday the parameters of the new de-escalation phase in Germany and expressed her support for the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65 years of age.OMER MESSINGER / REUTERS

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In recent days, pressure has increased – even from the ranks of the Chancellor’s party – for the federal government to establish a roadmap to begin to see a way out of the restrictions. From the economic and political spheres, they asked for specific thresholds and dates from which the limitations could be softened. It took almost 10 hours of tug of war, but the regional presidents and Merkel came out of the meeting with a document that establishes five opening phases. Very shy. It is not foreseen, for example, that the hotel industry can open the interior of the premises. As of March 22, and depending on the epidemiological situation, you can eat on the terraces, with prior reservation. Yes, some stores may resume their activity, initially by appointment. The private meetings are relaxed and an early detection strategy based on free rapid antigen tests begins next week. Each citizen will be able to do one a week, Merkel explained. The federal government has been mulling over the testing strategy for weeks. Health Minister Jens Spahn even promised that they would be available on March 1. It was not so. Either there are still not enough in the market or the Government has not been able to manage their purchase. Meanwhile, the supermarkets are ahead of him. On Saturday the Aldi chain will start selling tests to do at home.

The states will meet again with Merkel on March 22. Generally, the restrictions last until March 28, with a few exceptions. Among the new measures, as of March 8, private meetings between cohabitants of two different homes will be allowed, with a maximum of five people (until now it was only allowed to get together with a single person from a different home). In regions with an incidence of less than 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week, encounters of up to 10 people will also be allowed. In all cases, if the epidemiological situation worsens again, the so-called “emergency brake” will be applied, which will force a return to the previous situation.

After the elementary schools and nurseries opened last week, and the hairdressers this Monday, the next businesses that will be able to return to activity from the 8th are bookstores (where they were not previously open), flower shops and garden centers, with a limitation of 10 square meters per customer. The move to the next phase can only occur if a stable incidence of less than 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants is reached in seven days. At that time it could open the retail trade also with a minimum space per customer of 10 square meters. Museums, galleries, zoos, botanical gardens and monuments would be added, which have been closed since November 2. Sport has also been, which if these conditions were to be practiced, it could be practiced again without contact and in small groups (maximum 10 people) outdoors. Merkel was much more cautious than some of the regional presidents and wanted the threshold for openings to be 35.

The de-escalation roadmap foresees that, two weeks after the first openings, if infections continue to stabilize below an incidence of 50, open-air restaurants, theaters, operas, cinemas and non-contact sports could open indoor. Therefore, an eventual reopening of the hospitality industry, which would require prior reservation and delivery of data for possible contact tracing, would not occur at least until March 22. Another two weeks later, and if the incidence remains stable with less than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, recreational events with up to 50 participants outdoors and contact sports indoors would be allowed. The rules agreed with the States allow some exceptions depending on the evolution of their infections.

The politicians also agreed that the vaccination begins in the consultations of family or general practitioners from the end of March or the beginning of April. Until now, the pricks have been administered in vaccination centers opened specifically for that purpose. Germany has administered 6.6 million doses of vaccines, a rate that is considered very slow and has drawn criticism from the opposition and some regional leaders. The country is having problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which for now is only given to those under 65 and which many essential workers are rejecting. With data from Wednesday, three out of every four doses received were unplaced. The Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, confirmed this Wednesday that a new strategy will be approved shortly to vaccinate with this preparation also those over 65, in view of the good results reported by Scotland and England.

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