Just a week ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU chief called for “freedom and flexibility” so that states could fight the pandemic in their own way.
Now Armin Laschet, who is also the leader of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, is calling for emergency talks in an attempt to introduce a nationwide “Brücken-Lockdown”.
It is the latest in a series of confusing communications from the authorities.
We have seen an Easter lockdown plan presented, only to be reversed two days later with a dramatic apology from Merkel.
Meanwhile, several states have been ignoring the rules set out at the last federal-state meeting by keeping parts of public life open despite the rise in coronavirus infections.
Merkel, Health Minister Jens Spahn, as well as state leaders in regions such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have continued to push for stricter measures against the coronavirus.
Tuesday, Germany Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 6,885 new Covid-19 infections and 90 new deaths in the last 24 hours.
The actual numbers are likely even higher, as the RKI said that overall, less testing is conducted and reported during holidays, such as Easter.
The number of cases per 100,000 residents in a seven-day period (seven-day incidence) stood at 123. Germany’s goal is to keep this number below 100.
What is a bridge lock anyway?
On Monday, Laschet proposed a “bridge lockdown” in the fight against the third wave of Covid in Germany.
The idea is to close the gap until more people in Germany have been vaccinated. The situation requires “that we step up our game in many areas,” said the CDU leader.
Laschet wants to bring forward to the next few days the meeting scheduled with Merkel and the state prime ministers scheduled for April 12.
North Rhine-Westphalia leader Armin Laschet on Monday. Photo: DPA
Health experts have already said tougher action against Covid is needed due to the spread of variants.
Last week, high-profile virologist Christian Drosten and doctors called for a shutdown to control the third pandemic wave.
READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a tougher blockade?
What is the reaction?
It is mixed. On Tuesday, the director of the German Association of Cities and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, told the ZDF broadcaster that he was not convinced by a “bridge closure”.
“We don’t even know how long it will take for vaccines to be successful in reducing infections,” he said, urging states to focus on sharpening already agreed measures.
Berlin Mayor Michael Müller (SPD) said there are still too many unanswered questions.
“A bridge closed for a transition period and then with what measures?” Müller told the ARD broadcaster. “And that will apply until many people have been vaccinated. What does it all mean? “
Other states expressed their willingness to hold a meeting, but demanded that a concept be on the table beforehand and that everyone be willing to support.
Thuringian state prime minister Bodo Ramelow told Spiegel that a meeting could easily be held on short notice. “But there has to be something on the table beforehand that we can really decide together and, above all, that we can all implement,” emphasized the politician from the left-wing party.
Hesse’s leader Volker Bouffier (CDU) said he was prepared to advance talks on the crisis, but that they would have to take place in person rather than online. “The goal should be an understanding between the states,” he told RND.
Markus Blume, general secretary of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), said Bavaria is only in favor of moving the talks forward if all federal states are prepared to stay on the same page and toughen coronavirus rules.
Blume told Bild’s online debate that a discussion is useless “if everyone does their thing again later. That is why it is crucial that states are prepared to take more action ”.
SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach also expressed skepticism: “As long as individual federal states oppose exit restrictions, a new meeting would not be helpful,” he told Bild.
Free Democrats Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki described Laschet’s move as an “act of desperation.”
People would face more restrictions “to cover up the failure of the vaccination strategy of the federal government led by the CDU,” he told Funke Mediengruppe newspapers.
Didn’t states agree to take drastic action if coronavirus numbers rise?
Yes. But many of them have chosen to ignore this.
Merkel and the 16 state leaders agreed to national measures on March 22, including an “emergency brake” mechanism for regions to follow when Covid numbers exceed 100 infections per 100,000 residents in seven days. But several states have deviated.
Among those who adhere to the strict policy are the leader of Bavaria, Markus Söder (CSU), and the head of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann (Greens).
In a joint letter last week, they asked their colleagues to implement agreed emergency braking measures at hotspots, including curfews.
Merkel has also asked states to stay in line, even suggesting she could override them at the federal level.
Meanwhile, Tuesday Saarland will begin to phase out the closure, despite the increase in infection numbers. Much of public life will be allowed to reopen, including cinemas, theaters, concert halls, gyms and indoor tennis courts, as well as alfresco dining.
Residents need a negative coronavirus antigen test to use these facilities.
“We have to think of something else to shut down and restrict after a pandemic year,” Saarland State Prime Minister Tobias Hans (CDU) said. Merkel described the ad as “very daring.” On Monday, a 7-day incidence rate of 91.3 was reported for Saarland.
So will an emergency meeting be held?
Merkel may decide to hold the meeting this week instead of April 12. But at this stage we do not know if a national closure will be put on the table. States could be encouraged, or directed, to abide by the restrictions already agreed upon.
In any case, Merkel will be willing to avoid another embarrassing U-turn like the failed Easter weekend closure plan.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism