Germany extends coronavirus restrictions into January
With coronavirus cases in Germany still much higher than politicians and health authorities would like, the federal and state governments have agreed upon a uniform approach to dealing with the pandemic in December and January. Here’s an overview of what’s staying the same, and what’s changing.
Germany presents winter coronavirus strategy at press conference
On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states reached a final decision on how to get the coronavirus situation under control while still allowing people to celebrate with their families over the festive season.
Although the sharp increase in coronavirus infections has been successfully slowed down, Merkel emphasised that the current situation does not allow the measures to be lifted at the end of November. "We have two messages for the people: firstly, thank you, but secondly, that the current restrictions will not be lifted," Merkel said. “We need to make another effort.”
The federal and state governments have therefore agreed to extend the partial coronavirus lockdown. In certain areas, they have even opted to tighten restrictions, with a view to reducing the risk of infection during the holidays as much as possible. Here’s what’s been agreed upon:
Partial lockdown extended
The closure of bars, restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities has been extended. Officially, the lockdown will now apply until December 20, but the measure will almost certainly be extended until the beginning of January. The reason for this is that the Infection Protection Act only allows restrictions to be imposed for a maximum of four weeks.
All unnecessary social contact and trips, especially skiing holidays, should continue to be avoided, and employers will be asked to make it possible for employees to continue to work from home, wherever possible, and especially between December 23 and January 1.
New strategy for hotspots
There will also be a new strategy for coronavirus hotspots, as requested by the state premier of Bavaria, Markus Söder. If the so-called seven-day incidence exceeds 200 new infections per 100.000 inhabitants, there will be additional restrictions. This could include the closure of schools as well as further contact restrictions.
In order to allow for a loosening of restrictions over Christmas, contact restrictions are to be tightened from the beginning of December. Private get-togethers with friends and family are to be limited to a maximum of five people, from up to two separate households. Children up to the age of 14 are excluded from this restriction.
Restrictions relaxed over Christmas and New Year
Between December 23 and January 1, meetings with “close family and friends” will be allowed, of up to 10 people from different households. Once again, this does not include children under the age of 14. People will also be strongly recommended to self-isolate before meeting up, to avoid the risk of passing on the virus.
In its current form, the resolution states that the exemption will apply until January 1 “at the latest”. If this wording is kept, it could mean that the easing won’t apply everywhere over New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve fireworks will be banned from busy squares and streets to prevent large groups from forming, with local authorities asked to identify the affected areas. In principle, people will be asked to refrain from using fireworks, but there will be no general ban on the sale or lighting of fireworks.
Stricter rules in shops
Wholesale and retail trade will remain open, but with some changes to the rules. Previously, shops were only allowed to admit one customer per 10 square metres of floor space. This is now being relaxed to one customer per 20 square metres of floor space - but only for larger shops. Smaller shops with less than 800 metres of total floor space will still only be allowed to admit one person per 10 square metres.
The move has already drawn criticism from the German Trade Association, who said that further restrictions on customer numbers would only cause “endless queues and chaotic situations in front of supermarkets before Christmas.”
Mask requirements are also being tightened, and will now apply in front of shops and in car parks.
Fewer seats on trains
In order to make travel safer, the number of occupied seats on trains is to be significantly reduced. In principle, only window seats should be bookable during the winter months. People travelling in groups will still be able to sit in adjacent seats. At the same time, the capacity of trains should be increased by adding extra carriages. Mask checks will also be stepped up.
Schools and daycare
Childcare facilities and schools should remain open. In regions with “significantly” more than 50 new infections per 100.000 inhabitants within seven days, however, masks will also be made compulsory in classrooms from grade 7 upwards. The start of the school holidays will also be brought forward to December 19 nationwide.
More coronavirus tests
The federal government also wants to make it easier for people with mild cold symptoms to get a coronavirus test before Christmas, with the aim of making gatherings as safe as possible.
Support for businesses
Financial aid provided in November to companies, institutions and self-employed workers affected by the second lockdown will be extended into December. The federal government will provide assistance to the tune of 17 billion euros.
Protection of risk groups and rapid tests
The protection of risk groups like the elderly and those with pre existing conditions will be improved. For people in need of care, such as those in retirement homes, a total of 30 rapid tests per month are to be made available from December 1. Depending on availability, this will gradually be increased.
State leaders and the federal government will gather again on December 15 to examine the situation and discuss next steps.